The Rain Premiere Review: YA Apocalypse Drama Runs On Hope, Not Nihilism

Alba August in The Rain

Netflix’s The Rain is the streaming giant’s first Danish original series. It follows 2017’s twisty German drama Dark as yet another move in the company’s efforts to court a truly global audience. This time, though, instead of a rain-soaked time travel show, Netflix has nabbed itself a YA end-of-the-world series which, despite a preposterously bumpy start that may jettison some potential binge-watchers, eventually turns into the rare post-apocalyptic drama that doesn’t relentlessly double down on nihilism, but instead runs on hope for its band of plucky teen(ish) survivors. 

The Rain begins with an all-time ridiculous conceit: killer rain. To be more specific, the rain carries a deadly virus that wipes out nearly all human life in Scandinavia, beginning on one fateful afternoon when Simone (Alba August) is pulled from school by her frantic father who then, through a series of increasingly outlandish mistakes, manages to get his daughter, son Rasmus (Lucas Lynggaard Tønnesen), and wife Ellen (High Fidelity’s Iben Hjejle) to safety. As it turns out, safety is a high-tech underground bunker that’s just a few yards from where dad nearly killed his entire family because Rasmus doesn’t know how to work a seatbelt. Upon entering the bunker, dad tells Simone he’s the only one who can stop the virus and promptly high tails it out of there, leaving Ellen ill-equipped to content with the poor decision-making skills of her two children. Those skills, as it turns out, quickly find Ellen out of the picture and force Simone and Rasmus to fend for themselves. 

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It’s a huge risk to begin a series by announcing right off the bat that not only are the characters unlikable, but that their unlikeable nature is clearly genetic, a trait passed down from their father. Thankfully, there’s a montage that moves the story forward six years, presumably to allow Simone and Rasmus some time to reflect on what they’ve done, but also to wipe out most of humanity. If you’re still on board once the series gets through those early growing pains, The Rain begins to show some surprising signs of intelligent life, the best of which demonstrate the show’s ability to tip its hat to tropes of the genre without relying on them in the way series like The Walking Dead does. 

Jessica Dinnage and Angela Bundalovic in The Rain

There is a subtle rejection of the typical post-apocalyptic nihilism around the third episode, when Simone and Rasmus are besieged by a small band of hungry teens and twenty-somethings straight out of the YA handbook. Led by a former soldier Martin (Mikkel Boe Følsgaard), the group operates with a familiar kill or be killed ethos that comes standard in stories like this. A short flashback provides some necessary insight into Martin’s cold-blooded methods, showing a previous unwillingness to respond with lethal force resulted in the demise of Martin’s entire squad. That information helps fill in the blanks as to who Martin is and why he acts the way he does, but, as with everyone else caught in The Rain, the series is seems intent on starting every character introduction off on the wrong foot. 

While the audience is deciding whether or not these characters are worth investing in emotionally, The Rain gets back to its ludicrous but mostly fun world-building. That means giving the characters more to do than simply survive. Despite its clumsy execution in the first episode, the series promised a solution to the problem of killer rain drops, and, to its credit, it’s not long before The Rain gives its plucky survivors a goal that goes beyond the basics of finding food and shelter. It’s one that potentially promises an end to the predicament they’ve been stuck in for the past six years.

The Rain trades on that sense of hope in other, more meaningful ways, too. Not long after Simone leads Martin and his group to another magical bunker (they’re littered across the Scandinavian countryside, apparently), she and Rasmus set off in search of their father. Though their quest is seemingly foolhardy, and certainly thought of as suicidal by Martin and his (maybe psychotic) lackey Patrick (Luas Løkken), Simone’s optimism is like a beacon to the other survivors, Lea (Jessica Dinnage), Jean (Sonny Lindberg), and Beatrice (Angela Bundalovic). The group is a fairly standard collection of characters, though Beatrice is hiding something from her traveling companions, which introduces an added sense of intrigue to the proceedings. But it's the group's commitment to Simone and their belief that she will lead them to something greater than barely scraping by that is most interesting, primarily because siding with Simone is also a rejection of Martin’s violence-first response, which, feels like a silver lining in the otherwise dark cloud that is this series' conceit.

That silver lining goes a long way in making The Rain more watchable than it out to be, because the show is often times outrageously silly. And while the show’s writers refuse to double down on the requisite nihilism of their post-apocalyptic setting, they have zero qualms about doubling down on the most ludicrous elements they themselves have introduced. The mystery of the virus, the familial connection to it, and the importance of Rasmus in correcting it is all terribly ponderous — in the execution of those details as well as their supposed importance. But, some clumsy storytelling aside, and after an inauspicious start for the series’ main characters, The Rain offers an entertaining enough spin on the standard apocalypse drama -- YA and otherwise -- to warrant a watch. And at eight episodes that clock in at just over a half an hour apiece (for the most part), you can binge it without loosing an entire weekend in the process. 

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The Rain is currently streaming on Netflix.

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