UK VOD TV review: The Strain Episode 3
Ivan Radford | On 01, Oct 2014Reading time: 3 mins
“Soon, no more pretending,” Thomas Eichorst (Richard Sammel) tells himself in the mirror at the start of The Strain Episode 3, just as he sticks a fake nose on his smiling face.
It’s an unexpectedly freaky opening to an hour that sees Guillermo del Toro’s series increasingly embrace its horror roots.
We continue to follow Ephraim and his team – who at times are closer to the Scooby-Doo gang than the CDC. Sean Astin, as the silly Samwise of the bunch, begins to suspect that maybe he made a mistake in letting that coffin slip out of the airport, an act that Chuck Hogan’s script is keen to justify with sympathetic motives. Eph himself, meanwhile, is facing his custody hearing – can his hair be deemed a suitable role model for young Zac?
The meat bags we spend the most time with, though, are Setrakian and rodent hunter Vasiliy Fet. It helps that these are the two least developed characters so far – unless you count poor Nora, who has been relegated shamefully into the two-dimensional background – keeping the moderately corny feeling fresh. David Bradley milks a court appearance with an understated, gentle side that counters his ridiculous habit of speaking in riddles to anyone who asks him what’s going on. Kevin Durand, meanwhile, proves a valuable addition to the ensemble as the rat-catcher extraordinaire. Summoned to the house of a rich politician, he spends his time talking to the man’s daughter instead – his charmless nature proving utterly charming when he bends down to tell the child why she was bitten. Under Durand’s smiling, brutish manner lies a guy who realises that once something is explained, it becomes less scary.
That’s a lesson that The Strain has already learned; if the show’s inability to say the word “vampire” out loud is frustrating, it only makes its critters more and more creepy. And as Episode 3 clearly understands, even with Vasiliy on the scene, we’re far more interested in the beasts than their prey. After last week’s descent into bloody nightmares, director David Semel doesn’t hold back: there are only a few gory set pieces in these 45 tense minutes, but the fact that it feels like there are more speaks volumes.
They naturally involve the unnatural evolution of our few survivors from the plane crash – plagued by humming noises in their ears and teeth that don’t seem to fit in their mouths any more. Jack Kesy gets the nastiest moments as rock musician Gabriel Bolivar, whose imposing physique is cut down to size with a string of gruesome transformations – which are even more distressing because of his apparent nonchalance about the whole thing. But that simple, old-fashioned slice of body horror becomes 10 times more unsettling when you don’t know what these people are going to become; each sideways blink sends shivers down your tentacles. And when the darkly comic meaning of the title – Gone Smooth – finally drops, you’re left chuckling and quivering at the same time.
Yes, this is silly nonsense, but it’s silly nonsense from the mind of Guillermo del Toro: you don’t get to laugh it off that easily. As we have our first full-on encounter with a… whatever it is, the thrusting, lunging, chaotic violence reminds us just how weird del Toro’s world can be. You might chuckle about the hokum afterwards, but The Strain contains moments of genuine horror. No more pretending.
The Strain Season 1 is available on NOW TV, as part of a £7.99 monthly subscription – with the first month only £1 if you sign up before 27th September. You can also buy it on blinkbox, iTunes, Amazon Instant Video, Wuaki.tv and Google Play.