The Strain Review
Guillermo Del Toro is one of my favorite directors in modern pop culture. He has an amazing talent in incorporating horror, action, fantasy and just the right amount of whimsy in his movies that always do an amazing job transporting me to a different world. He is also one of the few filmmakers today that use practical effect and animatronics in his films, just look at the Hellboy series the first released 14 years ago and its still looks incredible. So naturally I was pumped to check out The Strain, it only took me a year after its completion to check it out., but alas after a about a week of binge watching I finished it and I am ready to talk about it.
The Strain follows CDC officer Dr. Ephraim Goodweather, played by Cory Stall, and his efforts to stop a horrible vamperial outbreak that slowly takes over New York City. As the virus starts to spread Ephraim realizes he can’t stop this alone, so he joins forces with a ragtag group of colorful New Yorkers to try and stop the city from crumbling under the rule of The Master, a powerful vampire lord. What is unique about this interpretation of vampires is how the theme of love is tightly woven into it. Unlike many vampire stories before, what makes these special is that there initial driving factor is love. When infected, the beasts first victims are always the ones they love, hunting and preying on them first before anyone else. So you can imagine that this leads to some really heart wrenching moments and for the most parts it does but unfortunately fails in the moments it means to grab you the most, due to some really poor casting and a nice dose of cheese.
For the most part the show has an awesome and diverse cast of characters, almost each one is excellent and represents the melting pot that is New York City. Dr. Goodweather is flawed, imperfect and even before the outbreak, was falling apart. Early on in the epidemic we get introduced to Abraham Satrakian, an old Jewish pawn broker who has been battling these creatures since Holocaust. Satrakian comes off as a crazy old man to Goodweather but quickly becomes imperative to the cause. Augustine Elizalde is a common street thug who inadvertently helps set the epidemic in motion but because of his strong moral compass and love for his family and friends is roped into the fight in more ways than one. Then there is probably my favorite TV show character in recent memory, Vasiliy Fet played by Kevin Durand. Fet is a Russian-American city exterminator with a huge heart and the soul of a gladiator. Durand is charismatic, charming, and always a pleasure to watch, maybe a little too much because often times he steels any scene he is in no matter who is around him. And finally there is Thomas Eichorst, a Nazi vampire, who is as vile as you would imagine a Natzi vampire could be.
As excellent as these characters are is how annoying and terrible Ephraim Goodweather’s son is and it’s a real shame because most of emotional conflict Goodweather goes through has to do with his son and its very hard to feel sympathetic when the kid is such a brat. Season one of The Strain had a different actor portraying Zack (Goodweather’s son) and he was pretty good, I had no real complaints, but season two swapped him out for Max Charles. He is always so moody and obnoxious, and never understands what’s going on. Max Charles could be a talented actor but you would never guess from here and it also doesn’t help that his writing is just so dreadful. Whenever he is onscreen the show just comes to a screeching holt.
Zack isn’t the only problem with the show though, The Strain has a similar problem many TV shows have, out of the 10-13-episode season count about 3 or 4 episodes can be cut no problem and because of the low episode count its extremely apparent. Many times an episode will focus on a specific character, one episode will be all about Vasiliy Fet and how his love for the city drives him to protect it, and another could be all about Augustine, facing the repercussions of his decisions and trying everyway he can to protect the people he loves. these episodes are amazing and I could not get enough of these characters but when an episode will focus of Ephraim, the main character, the emotional punch the show strives for is only half achieved. Ephraim himself is awesome and has awesome development but because he is obviously connected to Zack, and Zack being such a bummer of a character, makes these episodes drag real bad. When the whole ensemble is together though they have excellent chemistry and most of all they kick a lot of ass.
What the show does incredibly well is vampire slaying. Almost every episode has at least one awesome action scene, and what’s particularly awesome about these scenes is that unlike a walker from walking dead, these vampires don’t even need to bite you to turn you, there blood is infested with these disgusting worms that if find their way under a person skin infects them almost instantly. The host will stay human for a short amount of time but infection is absolutely fatal. Every fight with these things is stressful and intense especially that vampires are more than just mindless zombies, they are quick and are connected to one another through a sort of hive mind so the feeling of a battle going sideways is always looming.
What’s also really cool about The Strain is all the science stuff behind these monsters. Ephraim, being CDC, is always trying to find a cure or scientific counter measure to the plague. Through these experiments we get to learn so much about these vampires and see how the virus transforms its humans host. These moments, along with the general creature design really showcases Del Toro’s talents when it comes to practical effects, though I do feel that The Strain relies heavier on CGI than the former. Due to that there are some moments that just come off cheap looking and it makes me really wish it was more like Hellboy but I understand that the budget for TV is significantly less than movies so sacrifices must be made.
What really made me fall in love with The Strain despite all of its flaws was its deep connection to WWII and the Holocaust. Abraham Satrakian was imprisoned in the death camps during the Holocaust and its there where he first encountered the vampire beasts. Night after night Abraham would witness how The Master made victims of Abraham’s friends and family. After the war Abraham made it his mission to destroy the plague once and for all. It was great to see flashback of Abraham during and after the war as he hunts his oppressors and they him. It made this whole catastrophe very personal and it an was excellent motivation for me to continue watching. I felt every win and every loss that Abraham went through and I was constantly cheering him on.
The Strain is far from perfect, some of the episodes drag like crazy, some of the characters are annoying and it can definitely come off as corny at times but despite all of that I had a great time watching it. The core group of survivors were awesome and interesting, and the action was intense and plentiful. What really differentiated The Strain from other virus/outbreak shows was the personal connection the actual virus had to the characters. With only 46 episodes the show doesn’t overstay its welcome making it a perfect summer time binge.