EMERGING FROM THE RAIN
Netflix’s Scandi noir goes apocalyptic with a new Danish sci-fi offering
There’s just no stopping Netflix and its omnivorous appetite for new product. It has just released the first season of Scandinavian thriller The Rain, from Danish production company Miso Film, which has given us great bingeable shows including Those Who Kill, Dicte, 1864, Acquitted and Modus. The Rain is created by Jannik Tai Mosholt, one of the cocreators of the popular political series Borgen and also the new series’ showrunner, and is Netflix’s first original Scandinavian drama.
Six years after a brutal virus has wiped out most of the people in Scandinavia, young siblings Ellen Anderson (played by Iben Hjejle) and Erasmus (Lucas Lynggaard Tonnesen) go searching for safety. They have spent their time in an isolated bunker, which is mysteriously connected to their father and a company called Apollon, after rain fell carrying a deadly poison.
It’s familiar dramatic territory but has a particularly Danish slant on what happens to us when our institutions collapse and our lives have no security. It’s certainly an engaging portrayal of human behaviour in dire situations, with the lead characters carrying the cultural and social norms created by the law before the apocalypse. And of course it happens in a country that legislates for happiness, where this sort of thing is not meant to happen, and no one is prepared for it.
Episode one is directed by Kenneth Kainz (who also directed Dicte) with the cinematic facility and knowing feel the Danes possess for the nature of genre, especially the paranoia and uncertainty we now expect of so-called Scandi noir. He also handles several action scenes with flair, including a huge freeway pile-up that precedes the family’s arrival at the shelter.
The first claustrophobic episode centres on the siblings’ difficulties surviving in the bunker: their father has disappeared and their mother dies from exposure to the deadly rain while rescuing Ellen, after a man tries to crash open the bunker door. It covers their six years living in the bunker, gradually extinguishing all the food left by Apollon.
The siblings, who rather congenially age together, comforting and supporting each other without marked tension, are as bewildered as we are by what is happening outside. If you’re going to start a show about the end of the world with the end already well under way, it helps to have heroes as confused about the state of things as the viewer. As is the case with most survival dramas, as viewers we are constantly challenged to ask what we would or would not do, and what we could and could not live with.
The siblings determine that there is a network of similar bunkers throughout Denmark and make contact with one, but to no avail.
Kainz, a director with a nice feel for telling camera angles, while focusing on the dilemma of the siblings, clinically sets up the dimensions of the catastrophe and the dystopian survival context of the show. And, like all good drama, The Rain leaves us with many questions.
Where did their father go after leaving? Why did he never make contact and could he still be still alive? What is Apollon? Does Erasmus, set up as the key to much of what is happening, have some kind of immunity? How does Ellen, trusted by her father to care for her brother, continue to do it as he grows older?
And as their food runs out, how will they confront the outside world when forced from the bunker? Just what is the virus and how did it get there? Has it stopped falling? And, finally, just what answers lie in the arrival of a masked, heavily armed gang at their door?
Mosholt says: “I’m interested in finding out what we humans will do if the day should come when civilisation as we know it vanishes. And I want to see it through the eyes of youth. Those who are too young to understand it all when everything and everyone disappears around them, and who then have to find out who they are and what they will become.” Local streamer Stan has also been busy releasing new shows. Vida, inspired by a short story by Richard Villegas Jr, is one of its latest.
Vida is one of those potentially dramatic breakthrough series that come along rather frequently in these days of peak TV, where diversity is increasingly the name of the game for discerning viewers.
It’s a provocative show featuring characters rarely seen in mainstream TV, and designed to grab attention quickly and viscerally.
Vida (translated, it means “life”), created by persistent and resolute Mexican-born playwright turned TV writer turned executive producer Tanya Saracho, is a half-hour episode drama-comedy centred on two Mexican-American sisters, Emma (Mishel Prada) and Lyn (Melissa Barrera). They return to their old neighbourhood in East Los Angeles and are forced to confront their mother’s seemingly shocking past after she collapses on her bathroom floor and dies.
The sisters are excessively disaffected, their relationship characterised by what the younger, Lyn, calls “our regularly scheduled programming of not talking”, and both long alienated from their mother, who had been running a small neighbourhood bar called La Cinta.
Things become more complicated and emotional when they meet their mother’s “roommate”, Eddy (Karen Ser Anzoategui), and are forced to confront their mother’s secret, which, while we get the point rather quickly — Eddy’s sadness and grief, and her proprietorial sense of ownership, are obviously more than that of a mere boarder — does take them by surprise. Emma’s reaction is hardly welcoming, with her erupting with profane homophobia.
To make matters worse, Eddy has already made arrangements for the funeral based on the mother’s wishes, which were laid down in entries in her iPad, to the tart chagrin of Emma, now a self-made corporate gal.
Lyn, who has a rich boyfriend in San Francisco and a line of self-developed, Aztecinspired lotions, after the failure of a foundobject accessories business, is simply dismayed.
“So not mentally prepared to be dealing with adult shit like wills,” she tells her sterner sister. Their mother also leaves them the “piece-ofshit bar”, as Emma so pleasantly describes it, and the three storeys of rooms above it that house long-term undocumented Mexicans.
They must split the property three ways. One wants to sell, the other is conflicted, concerned for the tenants. “What kind of Mexican would I be if I don’t care,” Emma wails.
The emotional issues play out against the sociopolitical background of what’s known in LA as “gentefication”, a term derived from the Spanish word for people used to describe changes brought to communities when upwardly mobile Latinos move back to their old neighbourhoods and displace less wealthy residents. “When you open up that can of worms of us gentrifying our own, there’s a lot of story there,” Saracho says.
It’s a Latino variation on the idea of the urban renewal of lower-class neighbourhoods given a kind of bohemian flair after artists have moved in looking for cheap places to rent, attracting yuppies who want to live in such an atmosphere yet, after driving out local minorities, changing its social character.
The first episode, directed with a kind of fluent, almost insouciant cinematic fluidity by Alonso Ruizpalacios, opens with a zealous manifesto directed against the city council from another central character, the piercingly profane vlogger Marisol (Chelsea Rendon), who goes around the precinct photographing and embarrassing cultural interlopers.
“If those f..kers think we are going to take this occupation, this colonisation, lying down they’re got another thing coming,” she fiercely intones into her iPad. “If you try to come in here and replace places and displace people, good working-class people too, you better prepare yourselves, because you will see, we will rise up.”
The actors are relatively unknown, conversing in Spanish, English and Spanglish, but work with conviction and passion, empowered to be telling stories from their own culture, the two young leads stars in the making. They also happen to be extraordinarily attractive, which won’t hurt the series’ chances of success either.
The political resonance is timely too, the series coming as anyone hailing from south of the border hardly feels safe in Trump’s America.
SIX YEARS AFTER A VIRUS HAS WIPED OUT SCANDINAVIA, YOUNG SIBLINGS ELLEN AND ERASMUS GO SEARCHING FOR SAFETY
streaming on Netflix. streaming on Stan.
Maria-Elena Laas, left, and Melissa Barrera in Vida; Lucas Lynggaard Tonnesen, above, and Iben Hjejle in The Rain