'The Rain': TV Review
Netflix's Danish post-apocalyptic YA drama may have subtitles, but it's a lot like a post-apocalyptic YA drama you'd find on The CW or Freeform.
Don't look now, "American First!" nationalists, but Netflix is waging an aggressive war in favor of globalism, inundating its streaming platform with dozens of weekly international offerings, many of which only announce their foreignness when you press play and the subtitles (or dubbing, if you're a bad viewer) begin. Genre TV represents one of the most powerful weapons in Netflix's fight, with shows like 3% or Dark hiding their Brazilian or German cultural specificity in familiar dystopic or time-traveling frameworks.
Finding what's culturally specific in the new Netflix drama The Rain is a bit of a struggle. Still, the Danish post-apocalyptic series should have no trouble playing for an American audience, since it's basically a mid-tier CW or Freeform show. The execution is thin, but the premise is juicy and after watching three episodes sent to critics, I have enough curiosity to keep going.
Created by Jannik Tai Mosholt (a head writer on Netflix's Rita), Esben Toft Jacobsen and Christian Potalivo, The Rain takes some time establishing itself. In the pilot, Simone (Alba August) is abruptly pulled out of high school as her frantic father rushes her family to a bunker out in the woods, ranting about the coming rain. We see the impact of the rain when Simone's mother gets caught in the drizzle and almost immediately goes feral. Simone and brother Rasmus (Lucas Lynggaard Tonnesen) are enclosed in the bunker for six years with no idea of what has occurred in the outside world.
Six years later, running out of rations, Simone and Rasmus find themselves back above-ground learning about a virus, transmitted initially through the rain but now through any unpurified water, that wiped out much of the population and left the survivors scavenging for food and basic resources in a Scandinavian wasteland. How widespread was the virus? How did it kill? Are there safe areas? Is there a cure? Why is Rasmus special? How did Simone and Rasmus pass the time over six years without going crazy? Oh, do I have questions.
Helping our heroes navigate the dystopia and also answer their questions is a small group of young, scruffy, militaristic survivors including Martin (Mikkel Folsgaard), Patrick (Lukas Lokken), Beatrice (Angela Bundalovic), Lea (Jessica Dinnage) and Jean (Sonny Lindberg).
Early episodes of The Rain are brief and very focused. The first episode is 46 minutes long and introduces mostly Simone and Young Rasmus, before bringing in Hunky Teenage Rasmus at the end. The other two episodes I've seen are under 37 minutes and they start to give quick background sketches for the new group of survivors. The plots are very lean and need-based. The other survivors need food. Simone and Rasmus need answers and the possibility of hope for their missing father. Rain is bad. Water is bad. Other people are probably bad.
Director Kenneth Kainz does a nice job developing the ominous threat of precipitation, sometimes with billowing black clouds on the horizon, sometimes with a sound design that pushes the concussive force of rain to the front of the mix, sometimes with a fun overhead effect tracing the course of a single drop. When unexpected rain can merely screw up a picnic, it's no big deal. When a fast downpour or even a light mist can cause death, or when stepping in a puddle causes a group freakout, it's much different.
The early episodes feed off of basic 28 Days Later/Walking Dead-style zombie tropes in which any human entering the frame instantly is perceived as dangerous and the audience has no way of knowing if a limping, slouched figure is a weary, hungry person or an infected monster. There's no transformation that occurs, so The Rain saves a lot of money on makeup. So far, there's no gore and few overt horror beats, just mostly a lot of tension driven by characters doing dumb things, justified by a lack of familiarity with a changed world.
The episodes go by fast enough that I had time to research if Denmark is a particularly rainy country, if the underpinnings of the story are likely to be Danish-specific in a meaningful way that American viewers might not otherwise understand. The answer? Probably not. Copenhagen is actually, statistically, one of the driest major cities in Europe, which doesn't sound like it helped Copenhagen here. Though there's the mentioned prospect of travel to Sweden via the Oresund Bridge, The Rain's combination of forests, abandoned roads and empty cities could have been shot in Vancouver and could stand in for any location. It's specific-but-universal.
That carries over into the very basic themes of The Rain, which are also the basic themes of nearly every post-apocalyptic drama, namely that when the structures of society collapse, primal human virtues and faults rise to the surface (and look a lot like those normally imposed by institutions like the church, the military or our education system) and primal human appetites reign. I found that side of the story much less interesting than the questions of a brother and sister essentially raising each other in a bunker for six years with no other interaction. That can be as simple as how Simone, a nervous high schooler in the opening scenes, comes out of the bunker as a leader after having to mature and take charge of her empire of two. Or it can be as complicated as Rasmus, who entered the bunker as a grade schooler and emerges post-puberty, taking his first interest in the opposite sex, entirely unequipped with knowledge or experience in that department. (There's no insinuation that anything Blue Lagoon-y happened here. Yet.)
These interesting character possibilities should feed performances on The Rain going forward, but the acting is only starting to register. August is strong as this young woman on the cusp of adulthood, and those with rudimentary knowledge of Danish film will be interested to know, or will be able to guess, that she's the daughter of Bille August (Pelle the Conqueror) and Pernilla August. That same demo will probably recognize Folsgaard from the Oscar-nominated historical drama A Royal Affair, and he's the standout from the new group of survivors.
Three episodes of The Rain was probably the perfect number of episodes for Netflix to send to critics. Anything that feels like a gaping plot hole can be answered with, "Oh, that'll be addressed in the next five episodes" and any one-dimensional character can be excused with, "Wait until they get their focal episode." And there are a lot of things that feel like gaping plot holes and one-dimensional characters. I like the genre and this is recognizable and conventional stuff that I'll probably watch a few more episodes to see if the story gets expanded well, but I'm definitely not invested enough that I'd ever write a second, longer, more critical review if those weak spots don't improve.
Cast: Alba August, Mikkel Boe Folsgaard, Lucas Lynggaard Tonnesen, Lars Simonsen, Iben Hjejle, Angela Bundalovic, Sonny Lindberg, Jessica Dinnage, Lukas Lokken, Johannes Bah Kuhnke
Creators: Jannik Tai Mosholt, Esben Toft Jacobsen and Christian Potalivo
Premieres: Friday (Netflix)