The Strain (2014)

Overblown in kooky CGI/B-movie gore failing Del Torro’s imaginative premise on a foundational level, TS’ decent characterization, nice-cast, plot, & zombie/vampire themes are betrayed by a writers/VFX-room more ~anemic than the strigoi 4.2/10.

Plot Synopsis: Dr. Ephraim Goodweather, the head of the CDC’s New York-based Canary Project, is called upon to investigate when an airplane lands with everybody on board dead. What his team discovers is a viral outbreak that has similarities to an ancient strain of vampirism. As the virus begins to spread, Goodweather works with his team and a group of the city’s residents to wage a war that could hold humanity’s fate in its hand.

*Possible Spoilers Ahead*

Season-By-Season Reviews: S1 – 5/10 / S2 – 2.3/10 / S3 – 7.1/10 / S4 – 3/10

Review

‘A Virus Has Only One Goal’

Provocateur Guillermo del Toro’s Sci-Fi/Horror Vampire/Zombie/Epidemiological Novels Get A TV Adaptation On FX

Photograph Courtesy Of: FX Originals

‘A virus has only one goal: [survive] and reproduce. It has no political views, no religious views, no respect for a badge, no concept of time or geography: only one goal.’ Guillermo del Toro is one of the most imaginative auteurs modern-cinema has in its cavalcade. Pan’s Labyrinth, The Shape Of Water, Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark, The Devil’s Backbone, The Book Of Life, & Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark are amongst his filmography’s wide-spanning works from Hollywood to Indie’s – many of them in the horror genre as a self-proclaimed love-junkie of everything that scares us. Del Toro’s take on the zombie & vampire subgenres intrigued on paper/pitch, juggling the two with an added viral outbreak/biological horror motif that demanded a screen-version of its diverse novelizations. While he cameo’s to direct the first episode (to brilliant results), the TV version of the premise severely lacks the nuance and precision critical to most of del Toro’s successes. Overblown in kooky CGI/B-movie gore failing Del Torro’s imaginative premise on a foundational level, The Strain’s decent characterization, nice Corey Stoll-led castings, potential, & zombie/vampire themes are betrayed by a writers/VFX-room more ~anemic than the strigoi.

The Casting Department At FX Deserves Immunity From Blame

A Well-Cast & Early-Characterized Tale Of Family, Love, Corruption, Anti-Trust, & Virology

Photograph Courtesy Of: FX Originals

The casting department at FX is certainly not to blame: the show’s castings (and most of its core performances) are great. Corey Stoll is fantastic as torn epidemiologist and CDC-leader in the middle of a wrenching divorce-arc used as a prism for the plight of man Dr. Ephraim ‘Eph’ Goodweather – a performance that cements him with House Of Cards and his MCU-turn as a forced-to-be-reckoned-with acting-wise. Kevin Durand’s wise-cracking/sarcastic rat-killer Vasiliy Fet is hysterical and charming, Miguel Gomez’ rangeful Augustin a fascinating versimilitude of philosophical crime vs. morality conundrums and the tricky boundaries of where they meet when it comes to family, Mía Maestro’s Dr. Martinez serviceable support as co-worker and love-interest, David Bradley a peculiar but Michael Shannon-esque badass zombie-hunter Setrakian, Jonathan Hyde a convincing ill-fated old-man with the duality/range to also play The Master, and Richard Sammel is chillingly-evil as Eichnorst – the vampire acolyte of The Master with a 70-year history of villainous opposition and antagonist presence who steals the show.

The Plot Structure & Mystery Exposition

An Investable Plot Structure Following Each ‘Survivor’s’ Self-Contained Arc As We Learn More & More Of This Ancient Pathogen

Photograph Courtesy Of: FX Originals

The characterization from the beginning is pretty good, weaving a tale of epidemiology, philosophical dichotomies, and human-sin/corruption (as well as heavy themes like family, love’s blindness, greed, and anti-science deception) that are modernly-relevant and allow the virus to spread. Would you steal to feed your family? How about transport a mysterious box from the airport? The general storytelling aspect of the series is good, with a nice plot structure laying out the story from one central node of the Night Zero at the airport that reveals information bit-by-bit and follows each of the survivors in self-contained arcs separately. The series is far most at-home in The Master arc and its mystery exposition, certainly watchable in that regard as we’re addicted to the palpable intrigue of the apocalypse and ancient history. In a more idealistic version, it would have focused far more on this with a shorter episode count and better side characters instead of constant detractions in gross out horror and the biggest failure of the show (ironically its most central and critical aspect): the strigoi.

A Gushing Canvas Of Gross-Out Horror

An Unimaginative, Cop-Out Exploitation Of Biologically/Evolutionarily-Vulnerable Areas That’s Not Very Difficult Or Weighty To Provoke

Photograph Courtesy Of: FX Originals

The CGI and visual canvas of The Strain is absolutely awful. Extremely-kooky and overblown, the B-movie sci-fi CGI fails to instill even a remote sense of realism or something we should be scared about – a worm-infested walking parasite in a Grim Reaper clock that extends a Xenomorph-knockoff tongue to blood-suck its enemies: more laughably ridiculous than scary. Without his robe on, he looks even more ludicrous and goofy: a Barney-looking high-school film project Dracula it’s near-impossible to not burst out laughing at – not the invocation they were hoping for, I’ll bet. The gross-out/parasitic horror and gore of the strigoi is certainly not for the feint of heart – with enough vein-pops, bloody-scenes, eye-bleeds, and squelching organs to make even the strongest stomachs church. While the masochist might enjoy the discomfort of such thrills, it is a bit of a cop-out area of horror playing on universally/evolutionarily-vulnerable areas of human biology that doesn’t require much skill or nuance to provoke. Regardless, the collection of scares is failed ~entirely by the absurdity and amateurish cheapness of its VFX and character design choices, a betrayal of the immense potential and apocalyptic imagination of Guillermo del Toro’s premise combining familiar tropes like vampires, zombies, and pandemics in a new way.The only visual artists deserving salvation from the wreck are the makeup department before any frog-tongue’s/stingers come into play. The black eyes, pale white appearance, and change of tone in say the bathtub scare (one of the few genuinely-great ones in the show’s first season) do evoke some remnants of fear visually through appearance, although that’s lost the second they attack in full-CGI force. It’s bizarre because in S2-onward, the CGI is fantastic; even mesmerizing by late-S3; the show flip-flops though into a hackneyed and overcomplicated conundrum of lore and messy character arcs that feel lost by the great and clear-cut plotting of S1.

The CGI & Visual Canvas

Overblown & Kooky CGI That Decimates Realism And Problematically-Visualizes + Mega-Gore That’s Not For The Squeamish

Photograph Courtesy Of: FX Originals

The writing of the strigoi is wildly-inconsistent – they’re able to run at super-speeds, strategize, and communicate in some sequences, yet are bumbling idiots who stumble and can’t even manage to take down 5-6 newbies they have surrounded & exponentially-outnumbered at a gas station in others. The r0: the index of contagiousness of a virus, makes no sense here – even a r0 of 2-4 (meaning each person typically infects 2-4 others) is enough to spread worldwide in a few short months in real-life pandemics, but a virus seemingly limitless in r0 with its victims going around drinking/infecting hundreds every night isn’t enough to even take down one city in weeks? The show manages to somehow feel overlong even in a 13-episode Season 1 – a near-impossibility of writing (especially given the potential and primal-fascination of GDT’s apocalyptic premise) I credit to the piss-poor decision to try to stretch out the series to 4 seasons it doesn’t have the legs or intrigue to sustain, instead of a 1-2 season limited run to avoid the yawnability predominant by the awful Season 1 finale on. The acting by every non-core member of cast is atrocious – with many boring or annoyance characters like the punk-rock sell-out, cocky-lawyer, Kelly’s man-hating BFF, Nora’s batsh*t-crazy and high-octave whining mother, and fake-edgy mama’s boy Zack (in later seasons on recast that is, apparently willing to blow up half of NYC because someone hurt his mommy..). Scarier character writing than its vampire-zombies.

Conclusion

A Failure Of Del Toro’s Premise

A Pulse Early-On Devolves Into A Messy Slog Of Cheaply-CGI’d B-Movie Mega-Gore More Bizarrely-Anemic Than Its Antagonists

Photograph Courtesy Of: FX Originals

Overall, The Strain is a failure of a potential-rife Guillermo del Toro premise. A TV Series on a major network like FX was the perfect choice for stretching out the premise and gradual degradation of society as it succumbs to this new type of apocalypse – but they’ve still, somehow, managed to misappropriate these limitless intangibles. It has a pulse early on (supported by a gripping plane-centered pilot episode ‘Night Zero’) and intermittently across its watchable run if you have a forcible stomach, but devolves into a smorgasboard of disinterested/dilettantish writing and cheaply-CGI’d B-movie mega-gore by halfway through Season 1. The cast is certainly not to blame – especially Corey Stoll and Richard Sammel who exemplify the dichotomy between good and evil character acting phenomenally. The rest of FX’s departments involved are though, trapping a nice elevator pitch deep down in the worm-infested heart of a subpar overall series. Overblown in kooky CGI/B-movie gore failing Del Torro’s imaginative premise on a foundational level, The Strain’s decent characterization, nice Corey Stoll-led castings, potential, & zombie/vampire themes are betrayed by a writers/VFX-room more ~anemic than the strigoi.

Official CLC Score: 4.2/10