The Times West Virginian

Ticket

July 17, 2014

‘The Strain’ offers more gore than story

The Kansas City Star — At the same time “The Strain” was in development, a commercial in heavy rotation showed three catty middle-schoolers stalking a chubby guy on a diet. Whenever he contemplated a calorie-drenched monstrosity, they’d pipe in with a rapid-fire “Ew!” “Seriously?” “So gross ...”

FX should have hired those mean girls to keep things under control during the filming of “The Strain,” its much-ballyhooed summer horror series that kicks off Sunday. Because, seriously. It’s so gross, and for no good reason. It wants to be high-concept while making us hug the toilet.

“The Strain,” adapted from a series of novels co-authored by “Hellboy” director Guillermo del Toro, might not be the grossest show to ever land on basic cable. But the show’s recycled vampire mythology fails to justify this level of bloodletting, which even fans of “The Walking Dead” might find gratuitous.

“Strain” showrunner and lead writer Carlton Cuse, who also had those jobs on “Lost,” is telling another story about the survivors of a bizarre plane tragedy. But this plane landed smoothly, with the passengers in their seats _ strapped in and dead.

The show’s plot coagulates around the Center for Disease Control’s first-response “Canary Team” and the collection of rugged New York archetypes who pop up to lend a hand against whatever killed the passengers. Only four survived: a pushy lawyer, a suburban dad, a Marilyn Manson-esque rock star and the pilot, who’s the only one willing to part with an insurance co-pay to get himself checked out at the hospital.

Corey Stoll, who pulled off a tough supporting role in “House of Cards” as an alcoholic congressman, takes the lead here as Ephraim Goodweather, the CDC team’s leader. His sidekicks are a biochemist named Nora (Mia Maestro) and a pencil-pusher named Jim (Sean Astin). Bureaucrats literally stand in their way from the moment they arrive at the airport. But the team will soon have help from an exterminator, a computer hacker and a pawn shop owner who’s been collecting ancient swords.

Ephraim’s nickname is “Eph,” so everyone runs around yelling “EFF!” It takes some getting used to, but it’s less jarring than the translucent wormlike creatures Eph finds in the fuselage. They’re just the harbinger of gags to come, getting us tenderized for the main attraction.

As its evil creatures take form in the first four episodes, “The Strain” starts to resemble a regrettable late-night trip to Taco Bell. The show has slightly rearranged most of pop culture’s vampire, zombie and bio-disaster tropes, sprinkled the creation with pico de gallo and called it something new. Would you like a side order of swarming rats with your Quesarito?

Behold the infected victims eating raw meat and biting necks during sex! That complete solar eclipse is coming up very soon! Oh look, a medical examiner working alone at night surrounded by body bags. I’m sure he’ll be fine.

Can you remember the last time any “master” vampire’s chief emissary was not a dapper white-haired guy with a Eurotrash accent? In “The Strain,” that guy is Eichhorst (Richard Sammel of “Inglourious Basterds”), who’s hiding a lot more from society than his Nazi past.

“The Strain” drinks most deeply from Bram Stoker’s Dracula mythology, shipping its master bloodsucker from Eastern Europe in his own coffin with his own special soil, the same way the count arrived in 19th-century England by ship.

And then there’s the series’ Van Helsing, a Holocaust survivor named Abraham Setrakian (David Bradley) who ran into the master vampire in the death camps and has been waiting for another chance to kill him. He immediately recognizes what’s going on when a “dead plane” is discovered at the airport, but who listens to a raving old man at a crime scene?

Certainly not anyone from the CDC’s low-key disaster team. I don’t want my first responders panicking, but they could break into a trot once in a while, maybe raise an eyebrow. Eph and Nora are so unflappable, they barely seem interested in the maggoty invaders they find on the plane, even when they can see them crawling around inside some guy’s face.

“Do you need to go? Do you need to take some time? I’ve got this,” they say to each other whenever a cellphone chirps. It’s like they’re on “Mad Men,” burning the midnight oil for the Mop & Glo account, instead of dissecting a 6-foot tapeworm that used to be an affable airline pilot.

Astin’s character is mostly there to function as the crew’s Scooby-Doo, but at least he finally speaks for us during an over-the-top secret autopsy. “That’s enough! This is disgusting!” he snaps. ”Just call it in!” But what fun would that be?

While he’s under-reacting to the “blood worms” and their ability to sniff out human blood, Eph is concentrating instead on a family matter. He’s not even divorced yet, and his wife is having her live-in boyfriend parent the Goodweathers’ son, 11-year-old Noah. Yes, it’s good to give your everyman hero an interior life, but the hundreds of missing corpses seem more pressing.

In perhaps the most unrealistic scene of this sci-fi horror series about vampires, a judge makes a final ruling on the Goodweathers’ custody dispute after a few hours in a conference room. You won’t care how it turns out, but at least the domestic disputes provide some respite from the neck-ripping and dog-eating and organs exploding.

The Master’s first on-camera kill is a head-bashing that makes the famous skull-crushing scene on last season’s “Game of Thrones” look like a salon scalp massage. You won’t be eating popcorn again soon if you decide to tune in.

The lack of visual creativity is just one of many reasons why “The Strain,” despite being nauseating, isn’t scary. Scary is hardly in short supply these days. If you’ve somehow avoided reading about the real-life hemorrhagic fever outbreak, disappearing jetliner, fugitive Nazis, brain-eating parasites and deadly consequences of government protocol for a day or two, consider yourself lucky.

And we’ve seen these many-mouthed, tentacle-tongued monsters before, in “Species” and in the movie version of Stephen King’s “Dreamcatcher,” but especially in “Blade II,” whose Reaper vampires were also created by del Toro.

There’s no shock of newness, no “What is that?!” Just an “Ewww, one of those.”

1
Text Only
Ticket
  • Morgantown revving up for MountainFest

    Around 60,000 guests will flood into the Morgantown area July 23-27 for the 10th anniversary of MountainFest.
    The motorcycle-themed event will offer live music from two stages, two stunt team demonstrations, a vintage car show, custom bike builders, and around 80 vendors that offer motorcycle memorabilia, clothing, crafts and 14 different food options.

    July 24, 2014

  • Keaton clicks with Douglas, ‘And So It Goes’

    Two old pros show the kids how chemistry works in a romantic comedy in “And So It Goes,” a love-the-last-time-around romp that’ll give its target audience the warm fuzzies.
    Diane Keaton dons one stylishly kicky outfit after another — hats included — trills “La di dah,” or words to that effect, and all is well in this high-rent corner of Connecticut, where the perfectly-coiffed Michael Douglas plays her permanently grumpy Realtor neighbor.

    July 24, 2014

  • Some ‘Abbey’ details to tide you over

    American viewers are still a ways off from having the upstairs-downstairs bunch of “Downton Abbey” over as guests in their homes through the telly, but we have some crumpets of information to hold you over before then.
    Executive producer Gareth Neame and cast members Michelle Dockery, Laura Carmichael, Allen Leech and Joanne Froggatt appeared before reporters as part of PBS’ session at the Television Critics Assn. press tour in Beverly Hills.

    July 24, 2014

  • Kids Day Facepainting.jpg Kids Day is Saturday in Morgantown

    On Saturday, a portion of High Street in Morgantown will be closed to traffic to make room for all the kids.
    This year’s Kids Day will feature more than 100 activities, including an interactive butterfly exhibit, bounce houses, sand art stations, a model railroad display and much more.

    July 17, 2014 1 Photo

  • ‘The Strain’ offers more gore than story

    At the same time “The Strain” was in development, a commercial in heavy rotation showed three catty middle-schoolers stalking a chubby guy on a diet. Whenever he contemplated a calorie-drenched monstrosity, they’d pipe in with a rapid-fire “Ew!” “Seriously?” “So gross ...”

    July 17, 2014

  • Brooks’ Dublin concerts off; refunds begin

    It’s crying time on the Emerald Isle: Country music superstar Garth Brooks issued a statement Monday confirming that his five planned concerts in Dublin next week are scrapped, and that ticket refunds for 400,000 ticket buyers will proceed.

    July 17, 2014

  • Helping the United Way ... the musical way

    Heston Farm Winery and the United Way of Marion County have teamed up for the third year for the Heston Arts and Music Festival.
    While the HAM Festival has little to do with meat — although there will be a few ham-themed food options, including “hog wings” — it has a lot to do with the community.

    July 10, 2014

  • Go ‘Red, White & Boom!’ July 4

    Palatine Park will be full of people and patriotism Friday during Fairmont’s “Red, White & Boom!” celebration.
    Gates open at 3:30 p.m. and festivities start at 4:15 p.m. with Mama Corn, a bluegrass band from Pennsylvania.
    The Marshall Lowry Band, a country and bluegrass trio with members from Fairmont, will take the stage at 5:30 p.m., and country rock singer Katie Ohh will follow at 7 p.m.

    July 3, 2014

  • The Father of Rock ’n’ Roll

    Next weekend, musicians will come to Fairmont to pay tribute to a man considered the father of rock ’n’ roll piano.
    The 13th annual Johnnie Johnson Blues & Jazz Festival will be held July 5-6 at Palatine Park.
    A Fairmont native, Johnson taught himself to play piano, and his talent led him into a partnership with musician Chuck Berry — Johnson wrote the music for more than 60 Chuck Berry songs but did not receive writing credits.

    June 26, 2014

  • Petting zoo offers ‘total freedom’

    Wallabies, silky chickens and miniature ducks — oh my!
    The Great American Petting Zoo will travel to the Clarksburg Shop ’n Save on June 25 and then to the Mannington Shop ’n Save on June 26 to warm the hearts of families in Marion and Harrison counties.

    June 19, 2014

Featured Ads
NDN Lifestyles
House Ads