The Rain Is a Taut Dystopian Thriller

Nordic noir meets YA apocalypse drama meets ludicrous climate fiction in this rollicking new series.

Alba August in Netflix's 'The Rain'

It’s best not to think too hard about the premise for The Rain, which is that a sudden storm appears one day in Denmark and wipes out most of the country’s population. In short: the rain contains a bioengineered virus, and whoever comes in contact with it starts instantly vomiting and choking to death, and all water is therefore contaminated and totally deadly, except people are mostly fine going out as soon as the rain stops, even with the lingering humidity. (Like I said, don’t puzzle over the specifics.)

Because once you get over the ludicrousness of a killer virus whose host is the weather, The Rain is a taut, tense thriller. The first Danish original series to come from Netflix, it’s gratifyingly fast-paced and unfailingly dark. The action kicks off mere minutes into the first episode when teenaged Simone (Alba August) is dragged out of school by her father before a crucial presentation (and an even more crucial date). He bundles the whole family into a car, offering little explanation other than that it’s going to rain and the family can’t stick around.

When the family arrives at a hidden bunker—after a high-speed highway sequence made even more anxiety-inducing by the sight of ominously huge black clouds on the horizon—things get a little clearer. Simone’s father (Lars Simonsen) appears to work for Apollon, the company whose name is branded all over the high-tech bunker, which is handily equipped with hazmat suits and a decontamination shower. He tasks her with looking after her younger brother, Rasmus (Lucas Lynggaard Tønnesen), dons a protective suit, and leaves, saying only that he has to prevent everyone from dying. Simone and Rasmus dutifully stay in the bunker. For six years.

When they finally emerge, everything is very different. And it’s here that The Rain becomes even more propulsive, with the lingering questions about what actually is going on deprioritized by the more pressing issue of how Simone and Rasmus will survive in a virus-ridden hellscape where the quest for survival has turned all remaining humans into desperate, murderous scavengers. The eight-episode series—created by Jannik Tai Mosholt (Borgen), Esben Toft Jacobsen, and Christian Potalivo—feels inspired by a wealth of other dystopian works, including Suzanne Collins’s Hunger Games series and Emily St. John Mandel’s spectacular novel Station Eleven. But what The Rain lacks in originality it makes up for by remixing elements of YA fiction, postapocalypse drama, and cli-fi into a gripping kind of mashup. Every episode brings a handful of new threats, like gun-toting militias equipped with heat-seeking drones and killer … puddles.

It helps that the series has a persuasive star in August, who looks like a cross between Jennifer Lawrence and Brie Larson, and who plausibly sells Simone’s commitment to her central mission: to take care of her brother and find her father. After six years underground, with only each other for company, Simone and Rasmus are disoriented by everything they encounter back at the surface. But The Rain doesn’t linger too long on their emotional and psychological confusion. It’s almost entirely plot-driven, launching Simone from crisis to crisis while peeling off intriguing layers of exposition about where the virus came from and how much of the world it actually devastated.

Simone’s naiveté, though, is as much an asset as it is a potentially fatal flaw. In an environment where humans have had to harden themselves to survive, her altruism draws other people to her, and they in turn help protect her. With Simone around, “it’s not just about surviving,” Beatrice (Angela Bundalovic) explains in one scene. “It’s about hope.” Simone’s vulnerability is a narrative ploy that distinguishes her from other dystopian heroines: She’s not a self-reliant fighter, but a natural leader and protector. Bundalovic’s Beatrice is more unpredictable, telling varying versions of her life story to get what she needs, but no less compelling.

The series’s setting is also a selling point. Nordic noir tends to focus on the darkness buried under the egalitarian ideal of the Scandinavian society. The Rain brings this tension out into the open, exposing the inner brutality as a survival mechanism rather than as a hidden pathology. But it also turns the landscape itself into a kind of monster. It isn’t just the weather, clumsy climate-change allegory though it might be: In one episode, Simone and Rasmus journey into Copenhagen, and the site of the Tivoli amusement park, abandoned and full of unseen terrors, is arresting. The rain, it turns out, is only the beginning.