Don’t watch The Strain expecting the romanticized vampires of Twilight.

Whether you’re a fan of Guillermo del Toro or horror films, you’re probably interested in The Strain, a vampire drama premiering on FX July 13th. But don’t expect these vampires to be anything like what you’ve seen in recent cinema – Del Toro’s vampires bear no resemblance to the ones you’ve seen in Twilight, The Vampire Diaries, True Blood, or anything else in recent memory. No, these vampires are like something out of a classic horror flick, all monster and no romance.

Perhaps it was because this was such a relatively novel take on the subject that when Del Toro initially tried to find a taker for the series, he was shot down – leaving himself and Chuck Hogan to take the idea to the printed page with a series of books. Now three novels long – encompassing The Strain, The Fall, and The Night Eternal – the series has been successful enough in print to bring it back to television. And with the success of other dark shows – from The Walking Dead to Game of Thrones – I suspect it’s a good time to make vampires scary again. But can The Strain live up to the competition… and the expectations of fans looking for a cinematic Del Toro experience?

I caught the premiere episode of The Strain at the ATX Television Festival, and though I don’t want to spoil its secrets, I’ve got to say that it does not lack for style or substance. The first episode was co-written by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan and directed by Del Toro himself – as such, it has the look and feel of Del Toro’s work. In fact, it reminds me of nothing more strongly than Pacific Rim, spinning a brightly colored world inhabited by an equally vibrant cast of characters. This isn’t to say that the characters are entirely unique – there’s some easily recognizable tropes here, like the classic vampire hunter (Abraham Setrakian, played by David Bradley) and the scientist with no interest in mysticism (Dr. Ephraim Goodweather, played by Corey Stoll) – but they all have their quirks that give them life beyond simple stereotypes. Whether the world continues to feel this lively as it grows in subsequent episodes is up to question, but with such a solid cast there’s every chance it could continue to meet – and even exceed – expectations.

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The Strain is supposedly set in a present-day New York City, but, vampires aside, this isn’t the New York City you and I might know. The lighting is dramatic and always works to set the mood with color and contrast. It’s a long way from natural, but it adds to the supernatural feel and gives the world a stylized appearance that seems to fit the fantastic events that are playing out. It could be called artsy, but it feels very in line with Del Toro’s work – however if you don’t like that kind of thing, this show isn’t likely to please you any more than the rest of Del Toro’s catalog.

As to the story itself, in this particular fiction, vampirism is treated like a disease, with the CDC on the scene to investigate the cause of mysterious deaths on a plane at the opening of the premiere episode. This is a modern take on an old fashioned myth, and you have some nice moments where the old and the new meet and clash. Of course, with only the first episode to go on, there’s little but setup for the story to follow – some (but not all) of the series’ characters have been introduced and set into motion, but the role they’ll all play is yet to be determined. Del Toro teases the audience with the possibility of a great vampire mythos, but doesn’t give away the game – or even show us a clear image of the beast that did the killing – immediately, and the episode ends in a way that leaves the audience hungry (or at least curious) for more.

Horror fans, you’ll want to check out Del Toro’s terrifying vampires – and everyone else, you might want to tune in for the human drama about to unfold… so long as you have the patience to put up with frights and a bit of unpleasant imagery. This one’s definitely worth sticking around for a few episodes to see where it goes – and whether it manages to keep up the momentum as the season continues.

The Strain premieres on FX July 13th at 10PM eastern.


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