The Rain is hard to watch. A Danish drama about the end of the world, after some kind of killer virus finds its way into rain clouds, The Rain is a tricky watch not because of the subtitles or a painful English dub (thankfully), but because it’s unrelentingly grim. Necessarily dark and brutal, it follows the story of sister and brother - Simone and Rasmus - as they’re shoved into a bunker by their father, and forced to live alone for six years as the rest of the world dies. And that’s just the first episode of this eight-part thriller. If you’re looking for bleak TV, it’s absolutely the place to be on May 4 when it launches.
Hoping to follow in the footsteps of the deliciously dark, er, Dark, this is Netflix’s next big European project. It comes from a fantastic TV culture in Denmark, which has given us some of the best noir TV ever created, over the past ten years or so. The Killing, The Bridge, and Borgen are very much products of the excellent Danish TV industry. It’s quite a coup, then, for something like The Rain to have been signed up by Netflix. Despite such grand heritage, however, this show is very likely to divide opinion.
Mild spoilers for episodes 1 and 2 follow, but that’s it. The opening couple of episodes see Simone and Rasmus locked away inside a high-tech bunker by their father, who seems to know that the incoming rain storm contains the deadly virus. He then departs, promising to be back, once he’s figured out a cure. Needless to say, he doesn’t return, and matters are then made worse when the pair are forced to watch their mother die after she accidentally leaves the bunker and gets infected by the rain. Six years later and the scared teens are fully adapted to living underground, although they’ve almost run out of food. When Simone heads, nervously, above ground to see what the world is like, she discovers a landscape absolutely bereft of human life. Well, until someone starts trying to get into the bunker at the end of episode 1.
The brother and sister combo is a convincing one, and it’s clear the actors - Alba August and Lucas Lynggaard - have a close working relationship. It’s an important note, because while The Rain is clearly dominated by its setting, the show often behaves like a young adult drama. It deals with themes of identity and young people finding their place in the world (and with each other), albeit with the backdrop of sudden death on contact with anything vaguely moist constantly looming over them. A young soldier called Martin (Mikkel Boe Folsgaard) brings a real X-factor to proceedings when he shows up in episode 2, as he’s torn between retaining some kind of morality and simply surviving in a brutal, unforgiving world. The things he’s called on to do are shocking, and it makes him a necessarily unsympathetic character, at least to begin with. In fact, this doesn’t feel like a world where anyone truly wins, bringing to mind early The Walking Dead and shades of Black Mirror.
There’s quite a lot of trudging around in Danish forests, which doesn’t make for the most colourful backdrop, but it all adds to the extreme moodiness of The Rain. Again, if you’re looking for something truly bleak to slake a thirst for horror, this will serve you well, but anyone else might find it too much. While the setting is well considered, and the actors do a great job of being young people in a broken world, the storytelling seems to lack subtlety, certainly during the opening episodes. The Scandi-noir feel is here, but the first couple of episodes lack the sharpness of pace, dialogue, and plotting. Every plot twist feels telegraphed, and if you start to think too hard about what’s happening, there are plenty of plot holes that open up.
The optimist in me says that most of these concerns will be cleared up by the end of the season, leaving us room to just appreciate the grim, well-presented world and the intimacies of the characters left to inhabit it. One thing The Rain does very well is creating a sense of tension, especially when Simone and Rasmus are forced to leave the bunker and interact with their new world, so there’s heaps of potential here. But only if you fully buy into the central conceit.
The Rain hits Netflix on May 4, worldwide. For those worried about the prospect of squinting at subtitles or listening to a dire English dub, you’ll be pleased to know that most of the Danish cast actually recorded the English version themselves, their grasp of the language near-impeccable. It lends a quality finish to a show Netflix is backing to be huge. Whether or not you really enjoy it is down to how willing you are to immerse yourself in such a downbeat world. Maybe have a few episodes of Nailed It on hand to lift your mood after a long binge… just in case.
Want more? Here are the best shows on Netflix right now.