When it comes to movies and TV, there’s nothing modern young adult (YA) fiction loves more than post-apocalyptic scenarios in which kids are forced to cope with ravaged or dystopian futures created by irresponsible adults. That’s certainly the tack taken by The Rain, Netflix’s first Danish original series, which follows a collection of teenagers as they struggle to adapt to—and survive in—a world torn apart by man-made environmental collapse. The catch is, the hazard that destroyed civilization and much of humanity hasn’t disappeared; on the contrary, it reappears every time the sky gets cloudy.
As one can surmise from its title, Jannik Tai Mosholt, Esben Toft Jacobsen and Christian Potalivo’s show (premiering on Netflix May 4) posits precipitation as the agent of existence’s doom, bringing with it a lethal virus that kills those it touches within minutes. It’s a state of affairs that, in theory, is far more terrifying than even a zombie plague, considering that avoiding bites from the slowly-shuffling undead is an easier task than making sure one never becomes the least bit wet. Though Netflix’s latest binge-a-thon doesn’t always handle the logistics of that situation in a completely convincing way, its premise provides a sturdy backdrop for the suspenseful story of a girl striving to protect her younger brother at all costs—because, it’s implied, he may be the key to finding a solution to Earth’s catastrophic condition.
The Rain commences with Simone (Alba August) racing to meet her classmates in time to take an exam—and then, as soon as she arrives, racing away with her father Frederik (Lars Simonsen), who’s shown up at her school to get her before some unannounced cataclysm occurs. In the car with Frederik, mom Ellen (Iben Hjejle) and sibling Rasmus (Bertil de Lorenzi), Simone is soon speeding down a crowded highway, trying to outrun the storm gathering in the rearview mirror. When an accident prevents them from proceeding any further, the family takes off on foot into the adjacent forest, where a bunker owned by Frederik’s employer Apollon is located. Safely inside, Frederik departs in a hazmat suit, telling his brood that he has to go help combat the falling rain. Shortly thereafter, Rasmus opens their ground-level door in an attempt to aid a stranger, and in doing so, gets Ellen killed, thereby leaving him and his sister to fend for themselves in this underground shelter.
That early act suggests that kids can’t be trusted with their own safety—an impression that serves as the basis for the ensuing action. Stuck in their high-tech abode with no means of communicating with anyone, and wary of venturing outside for fear that their protective gear won’t fully shield them from infection, Simone and Rasmus opt for a makeshift domestic life.
Cue a jarring time jump of five years, and Rasmus (Lucas Lyngaard Tønnesen) is now a buff teenager increasingly frustrated with his cooped-up circumstances. Recognizing this, Simone surreptitiously sneaks up to the surface for a brief recon mission, only to find a wasteland of empty buildings, abandoned cars and charred skeletons. With their food supply almost gone, Simone decides that she and Rasmus must abandon their home and go in search of one of the other bunkers marked on her tablet’s map of the region. Alas, that expedition is complicated almost as soon as it begins, as a blocked-air-vent alarm causes them to exit before they’re ready—and to run right into a trap set by a band of strangers, led by gun-wielding Martin (Mikkel Boe Følsgaard).
This encounter is the true starting-off point for The Rain, which subsequently focuses on Simone and Rasmus as they watch each other’s backs while searching for sustenance (which Martin’s crew is in desperate need of) and some means of locating their father, who may have been headed across the border in order to stop the pestilence. As the ragtag crew makes its way toward another safe haven, group dynamics of a somewhat familiar sort emerge, with romantic tensions blossoming between certain characters (Rasmus and Angela Bundalovic’s Beatrice), and background threats developing courtesy of the malevolent impulses of shadier figures (Martin and Lukas Løkken’s Patrick).
Even in the first three episodes given to press, The Rain stumbles a bit in plausibly fleshing out its setup. Aside from the fact that avoiding any contact with water would be next to impossible (especially in a woodlands environment), multiple questions quickly arise: How have Simone and Rasmus stayed sane while cooped up in their tiny bunker? How has anyone cleaned themselves for the past half-decade (or does everyone just reek due to lack of showering or teeth-brushing)? How can Lea (Jessica Dinnage) still tolerate her braces, years after they were first put on? And how are any of the bunkers still online, in a population-ravaged country where everything (including, presumably, the power grid and the internet) has fallen into disrepair?
Those issues somewhat undercut The Rain’s reality. Fortunately, unlike so many sluggish Netflix programs, the series moves swiftly from the get-go. And it’s bolstered by uniformly strong performances—particularly from August, whose commanding presence anchors the drama. Better yet, there’s an enlivening maturity to Mosholt, Jacobsen and Potalivo’s plotting, be it in their believably offhand use of adult language (which is never look-at-me excessive), or their depiction of sex as both a natural facet of teenagerdom, and—in a thread concerning Beatrice—a potential commodity in a world without traditional norms or rules of engagement. More than most likeminded TV efforts, this import recognizes the truly harsh realities confronting its young protagonists, and doesn’t shy away from the ugly deeds, and deceptions, required to face them.
Whether The Rain has a satisfying destination in store for its male and female survivors will ultimately be key to its long-term fortunes, as the hinted-at quest driving Simone and Rasmus forward is just as apt to lead to derivative conflicts and dilemmas (think The Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials) as thrilling new adventures. For now, however, its confident storytelling provides plenty of hope for the latter.