This is a review of the first three episodes and contains mild spoilers.We will review the entire series for our June 2018 magazine.
The first Danish Netflix original series The Rain is a science fiction thriller set after a virus spread through rainfall has ravaged the country. Now, a group of young survivors must work together to find food, freedom and safety. A clear step-up from the Danish dramas we have seen in the past decade, The Rain has benefitted from Netflix with its high budget, resulting in some of the best special effects we’ve seen in Danish television and an overall high production value.
In the first fifteen minutes of the first episode, we are given a rushed history of our characters and the moment the rain began to fall. Simone (played by rising star Alba August) is a typical teenager attending high school, about to present a group project with her friends, and giving suggestive glances to one of her male classmates. Everything seems very normal, that is until her father comes rushing down the school hallway and drags her out. He puts her in the car, along with her mother and young brother Rasmus, and they flee the city out to the woods just as reports are coming in of rain killing Danes in a neighbouring town. We slowly learn that her father works for a company that has somewhat predicted the virus, and as such they have placed safe bunkers across the country. As the rain begins to fall above them, they flee into their bunker. We aren’t shown the effects of the rain on people, or even provided with a clear explanation of what it is; we are viewing the events through the eyes of Simone, who is just as clueless. Her father provides her a brief explanation before saying that he needs to leave and tells Simone that her number one priority is Rasmus. Sometime after he leaves, Rasmus believes he hears his father at the door and goes to open it. Instead it’s an individual turned savaged by the virus, and Simone and Rasmus’s mother die trying to close the door again. Back in the bunker, Simon and Rasmus are now alone and must figure out how to live underground.
Towards the end of episode one, we jump to the present day. Rasmus is now a teenager and Simone looks comfortable in her daily chores around the bunker. However, as food supplies are running low and their desperation for their father to return is growing, Simone and Rasmus make the difficult decision to leave the bunker and visit the other bunkers across the country, figuring their father must be in one of them. Along the way, they encounter a group of young people, led by Martin (Mikkel Boe Følsgaard). After some initial hostility they decide to work together to find these bunkers and their father. In episode three, they venture into Copenhagen where the true effects of the virus are finally revealed. Survivors have turned into savages as they fight over the remaining scraps of food, and the capital has fallen into an overgrown wilderness, with small shreds of the city, such as the church towers and the grand Tivoli gates, revealing themselves from under the rubble.
The plot begins to develop in the third episode, where the group learn about the quarantine zone that has been set up, and how they are right in the middle of it. A wall separates the destroyed Denmark with the safe and virus-free Sweden, and the group realise they have to reach this wall. However, as with any group of young people, love, jealousy and all the emotions found in coming-of-age stories surface, creating drama and tension among the group. However, the most Scandinavian part of the series is that it seems to be leading up to some greater environmental message, though after the first three episodes that remains to be seen.
There are some interesting questions that are raised throughout the first episodes. First, the fact that their father hasn’t returned to them is increasingly becoming suspicious, and they are starting to wonder what he really knew about the virus. Second, there are some mysterious flashback scenes showing a young Rasmus being treated for an illness outside the bunker, despite the fact neither Simone nor Rasmus can remember ever leaving the bunker. The fact that he was touched by the rain back in episode one and Simone’s persistant desire to protect him shows that there’s more to Rasmus than we know. In true Danish drama fashion, it seems like this will be revealed towards the end of the season. Luckily, the plot is not predictable, and a few twists and turns are expected as we reach the conclusion.
The characters are a mixed bag, with some proving to have more three-dimensional backgrounds than others. Alba August, who earlier this year was a European Shooting Star at the Berlin Film Festival, really does shine as our protagonist. She’s fearless, determined, intelligent, and a delight to watch. While perhaps a little too much of her motivation revolves around protecting her brother, it’s still nice to see a strong leading lady in a science fiction series, something perhaps not too common elsewhere. Another interesting character is Beatrice, played by Angela Bundalovic. One of the group members, she is initially shown as a background character but as the series progresses we learn more about where she came from. By the end of episode three, her character background is incredibly unique and intriguing, and it’d be nice to see where they are taking her story. Sadly, beyond these two many of the characters seem a little one-dimensional. Mikkel Boe Følsgaard is unoriginal as Martin, depicting the typical macho and stubborn group leader, though flashbacks show his history in the Danish army, which does explain who he is. Lucas Lynggard Tønneson as Rasmus is also a little one-dimensional and his character seems increasingly strained by the overprotective Simone.
The true feat of The Rain is its high production value. The show undoubtedly has had some cash to work with, and much of this has gone to the incredible special effects, led by supervisors Jonas Ussing and Thomas Øhlenschaeger. Ussing has previously directed a short film called Zombiehagen, and it has a similar style to The Rain. The scenes of dystopian Copenhagen are breathtaking and feel realistic, as does the high-tech equipment of the bunker. A lot of effort has been put in making the world The Rain is set in seem real, and it certainly achieves it. Danish science fiction is a new and emerging genre; Lars von Trier played with the idea in his 90s television series The Kingdom as well as Melancholia, and we were introduced to it in the Blade Runner-esque A Man Divided, which was released last September. The premise of A Man Divided was somewhat similar in that it showed a Copenhagen ravaged by a virus, though in that film time travel is added to try to go back in time and prevent the virus. Sadly, the film did not find much success in Denmark and abroad, which is a shame because it was a beautifully made film and really added a flair of Danishness to the genre. Audiences just aren’t used to seeing Danish content with a genre like science fiction mixed in.
What makes The Rain different is that it is not a Danish science fiction series, but rather a science fiction series that happens to take place in Denmark. The series uses very typical conventions and plot-lines associated with the genre, and the story itself is rather un-Danish; it could easily take place anywhere in Europe or even the world. In the third episode we do get to see the landmarks of Copenhagen like the Tivoli and the City Hall, but beyond that much of the first three episodes is set within the woods and there’s nothing remotely Danish about it. Furthermore, Danish critics have pointed out that the time it takes for characters to walk between locations is incredibly unrealistic and loses some emersion in the story.
Overall, The Rain is an exciting genre piece that has proven that science fiction can be made in Denmark, even if it doesn’t feel Danish. Whether international audiences will be able to accept this more global look remains to be seen, but it is certainly not a predictable and slowed down series. The Rain is full of action and intrigue, and it will certainly keep you glued to your seat.
The Rain is released on Netflix on the 4th of May 2018.