The Strain: 1.01 Night Zero
The Strain, a 2009 vampire novel written by Chuck Hogen and Guillermo del Toro, has finally been adapted for television. Set in New York City, it follows Dr Ephraim Goodweather – head of the Center for Disease Control Canary Team – and his attempts to combat a mysterious viral outbreak, that shares a particular resemblance to an ancient and evil strain of vampirism. With bold characters, a bustling location and a supernatural threat, it was only a matter of time before this fictional world graced our television screens.
Del Toro was at the helm of this week’s pilot episode as we were at last introduced to the show’s stellar cast (Corey Stoll, David Bradley, Mia Maestro and Sean Astin) and their new found threat to the city. With such a talented cast and crew on board, in addition to an already popular premise, we should be in for a treat. So, was it actually any good?
Well, the creative merit behind Night Zero is abundantly clear. The whole episode is laden with del Toro’s distinct aestheticism that shines through the use of colour (including his usual emphasis on the red/blue palette) in addition to a particular flow and seamlessness of editing that works brilliantly when creating tension and suspense. His love for the genre also exudes, drawing from his personal back catalogue as well as other generic classics. Horror fans will love the subtle nods to the likes of Alien and Blade II, but also take great joy in specific set pieces.
The post-mortem sequence, in which the examined bodies re-animate and murder the examiner, is reminiscent of the much-loved camp horror flicks so prevalent in the 80s, whilst the death of The Sarge owes a debt to Cronos and Hellboy, although lacking practical effects. Even though such moments are neither scary nor gory, these small touches, teamed with the incredibly stylised world of del Toro, make this episode a fun and enjoyable watch overall. To the same effect, it compliments The Strain’s overarching plot. From the opening credits, in which a plane mysteriously lands with all but four passengers ‘dead’ inside, to the holocaust-survivor-come-Harlem-pawnbroker, every aspect boasts vibrancy and is wholly enigmatic.
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the episode’s dialogue and characterisation. Characters either teeter the boundary of overplayed into full blown caricature or are just downright unlikeable. The Sarge would feel right at home in Airplane! or Hot Shots!, whilst our main protagonist Goodweather elicits no sympathy, nor sexual tension from his co-worker-come-lover, in the sub-plot of his broken marriage.
It’s a decent first episode for The Strain, boasting enigma, a love for the horror genre and a strong, stylised aesthetic. As fun as that all is however, it's not enough - for an audience to be fully invested, the script and characterisation need to develop, and fast.