It sounds as if it should be the start of a Fringe episode (in fact it’s not too dissimilar to the very start of that series – except there it was a flesh-dissolving toxin which is the catalyst for the madness) but Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan’s series, based on their trilogy of novels, is considerably scarier and more horror-based than Fox’s alternate science series. Del Toro directs this stylish “feature length” opener, with some scenes that will make you jump, and moments of utter horror whose brutality comes out of nowhere.
By the end of the hour and a half, you’ve got a pretty good idea of the protagonists. There’s the mysterious figure whose health seems precarious, being looked after by someone who doesn’t breathe and who has a way of dealing with lowlife scum; the Holocaust survivor who’s handy with weapons, who has seen it all before and who knows there’s a way to stop things getting out of hand, if only people will listen to him; the… whatever it is that caused the problem on the aircraft; and caught between them all, the harried scientist from the Centre for Disease Control – who (in scenes that are more heavy-handed than anything else in the pilot) has put his job ahead of his family for too long – as well as his colleagues, some of whom appear to have their own agenda.
It’s a procedural mystery for about the first hour – the scenes featuring An Adventure in Space and Time’s David Bradley are the weirdest up to that point – but the final third of the story sets up various ideas to follow through in the series, with the final shot (another “eyes changing momentarily” idea which we’ve had quite a bit of in Intruders recently) promising that things are only going to get worse.
The cast take it all very seriously, although there is a light leavening of humour from time to time. By the end, you know what sort of monster they’re facing – and it’s definitely in the driving seat.
Verdict: A stylish horror that holds a lot of promise. 8/10
The Strain begins on Watch on September 18.