The Strain Season 1 Review “Night Zero”

The Strain Episode 1 Night Zero (4)

On the season premiere of “The Strain,” things got weird fairly quickly, and they pretty much stayed that way throughout the episode, in “Night Zero.” Hey, what do you expect from the likes of Guillermo Del Toro, the fantasy/horror mastermind behind the “Hellboy” movies, “Mimic,” “Pan’s Labyrinth” (still my favorite of his movies), and the superb, underrated “The Devil’s Backbone,” among other stellar flicks? To say nothing of the collaborative movies he’s worked on, like “The Orphanage” (super-awesome, if you haven’t seen it), “Splice,” “Mama,” “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark,” and, of course, “The Hobbit” series of films. The guy clearly has a niche and he’s sticking to it.

As well he should, as the fantasy/horror thing has reaped great dividends for him over the years. Among the things that resulted from his ongoing fascination for all things freaky and spooky is the books series upon which this show comes from. It was co-written with Chuck Hogan, best-known for the novel Prince of Thieves, which some of you might be more familiar with in its movie version, Ben Affleck’s critically–acclaimed “The Town.” The series spans three books, and if the show does well, Del Toro has already said that he feels the series could run from anywhere from three-to-five seasons, depending on how well it performs, ratings-wise.

As it stands, the show is off to a reasonably engaging start, with ultra-stylish direction on the pilot episode from Del Toro himself, deftly avoiding the typical horror show look in favor of a much more colorful palette than the genre usually affords itself. Most horror stuff is murky and dark- not this one. It’s bright and eye-catching, with striking cinematography by Checco Varese, most recently of the show “Reign,” which is similarly engaging to look at, even if the show itself is not my cup of tea.

This one, on the other hand, totally is. I admittedly haven’t read the books as of yet, but the general premise is intriguing enough that I just might get around to it someday. I thought that it was going to be one of those infectious disease shows with a dash of horror, a la “Helix,” which is sort of is, but it also has certain undertones of other things as well. A little “Salem’s Lot” here (the whole coming into town under the cover of darkness under suspicious circumstances; the coffin business; the little girl scratching at the door at the end), a little David Cronenberg-ian body terror and corporate menace there (the worms, the weird effects they had on people, the freaky lab work on what’s going on that doesn’t seem possible by natural means, the evil corporate types who seem to know exactly what was going on) and a dash of “Outbreak”-style CDC-driven freak-out. Stir and serve.

Best scenes: the scene where the CDC finally go onboard the plane after its mysterious landing in New York- especially the UV stuff; most anything with Abraham Setrakian (David Bradley, aka Filch from the “Harry Potter” movies and Frey from “Game of Thrones”), especially the face-off with the young thugs at the pawn shop and that bad-ass cane/sword; the death of the air traffic controller (or whatever he was) by the monster in the coffin; everything in the lab, not in the least the freaky heart thing and…I’m gonna go with a zombie attack, though infected might be more appropriate; and, of course, the eerie scene at the end with the little girl.

I also liked the oddball Nazis vs. Jews undercurrent that couldn’t have been unintended- note Abe’s Holocaust tattoo, and the nasty way that those corporate guys- who spoke German and English in an German accent- referred to him as “The Jew.” That was a new wrinkle in a story like this, and makes me wonder if they’re not going to bring in the old Nosferatu legend somewhere- perhaps that’s what the thing in the coffin is? Of course, it looked more like a worm creature, more along the lines of the “Tremors” worm or something like that, than a typical vampire, so maybe it’s not that at all.

Whatever the case, I found enough here to like to keep me watching, and I look forward to seeing what Del Toro and company come up with next, both plot-wise and visually. Future directors coming up include David Semel, who’s directed episodes of “American Horror Story,” “Angel” and “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”; and actor-turned director Keith Gordon, who starred in “Christine” and “Dressed to Kill” and has directed episodes of “The Leftovers,” “The Killing” and “Dexter.” Both Del Toro and co-creator Hogan are writing or co-writing episodes as well.

My only real reservation about the show is its scheduling. Sunday night is insanely packed with shows, including the final season of “True Blood” and the aforementioned “Leftovers” on HBO; “Masters of Sex” and “Ray Donovan” on Showtime; “Halt and Catch Fire” on AMC; the upcoming WGN show “Manhattan”; and TNT’s “Falling Skies” and “The Last Ship.” That’s a lot of traffic on one night, and one can certainly understand where a lot of people who have to keep their DVR’s working overtime to keep up- if they even can keep up with everything.

I just don’t get why shows that otherwise could have little in the way of competition would pick a night in which there’s nothing but competition on all sides. It makes me worry about the fate of some of those shows, and I happen to like more than a few of the above shows and would like to see them succeed or continue to succeed, but you just know some of them are going down by the end of the summer. Hopefully, “The Strain” won’t be one of them, because it has the makings of a keeper.

What did you think of “The Strain” premiere? Do you, too, wish it were on a less-cluttered night? Or do you think the direct competition isn’t so bad, given how much a lot of it is repeated throughout the night? What did you make of the plot? Or the creatures? Where do you think it’s all headed? Are you a Del Toro fan, too? What’s your favorite movie he worked on? Do you think this one will succeed? Sound off below and see you next week with more insights and a look at the ratings!