Netflix’s ‘Dark’ is a deeply fascinating and eerie tale that demands your undivided attention
I can perfectly understand why Stranger Things was everyone’s favourite series, but for me personally, it was a tad too “Hollywoodish,” that is, it was a little too mainstream for my liking. Now don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with playing to the gallery. Duffer Brothers’ pet project was a fantastic visual treat with memorable characters and a spooky, intriguing narrative. It was at par with the best popcorn blockbusters that Hollywood has to offer, but regrettably, it’s not something that particularly floats my cinematic boat.
However, Netflix’s first German original Dark – hailed as the adult version of Stranger Things – is something that I did like a lot. It’s not just Eleven and the gang that you are reminded of while watching the German language series, as David Lynch’s Twin Peaks also seems to be a major inspiration to this family tale which involves an intriguing supernatural twist.
Having said that, let me assure you that any similarities to ‘The Upside Down’ saga are merely superficial.
Set in a small fictional German town of Winden, Dark starts off with teenager Jonas (Louis Hoffman) returning to school two months after the mysterious suicide of his father to find that his classmate Erik has been missing for almost two weeks.
His mother (Maja Schöne), on the other hand, is trying to cope with the loss by being in an affair with the police chief, Ulrich Nielsen (Oliver Masucci), who is married to the school principal.
Ulrich is investigating the case as thoroughly as he can, especially because it reminds him of his own brother’s unexplained disappearance 33 years ago. But things take an unexpected turn when his youngest son Mikkel (Daan Lennard Liebrenz) also vanishes while on a drug scavenger hunt with his siblings and Jonas in the nearby forest.
As investigation continues, the town starts experiencing some really strange occurrences involving deaths, out-of-town strangers and paranormal incidents that threaten to unravel Winden’s dark secrets.
While there is a lot to add here, but anything I say at the moment would mean entering major spoiler territory.
All in all, Dark is a deeply fascinating show. If I were to sum it up in one word, I would call it ‘eerie’. It is also one of the adjectives most commonly used to describe any of David Lynch’s surreal work. This should not come as a big surprise, considering how the inherent creepiness is set against a deceptively calm, small town backdrop à la Twin Peaks.
Like I have already mentioned above, Dark can somewhat be compared to Stranger Things. But what really sets this German production apart is how it manages to incorporate some really clever themes and profoundly philosophical questions within its intriguing narrative as opposed to the popcorn nature of its American counterpart. Unlike Stranger Things, this particular show requires your undivided attention. So better keep the distracting snacks and smart phones away while giving Dark a watch.
One place where it really pales in comparison to Stranger Things is the lack of any truly memorable character. While Mike, Eleven, Dustin and many more characters have helped Stranger Things become a huge cult classic, Dark has been held back in this department with no particular performer standing out. This should not be taken as a criticism of any of the actors who, I have to say, performed their roles admirably. But the absence of any enduring character has got more to do with the writing which was heavily skewed towards constructing an elaborate philosophical mystery more than anything else.
Another detail that is noteworthy in Dark’s case is that despite the presence of the supernatural element which is a major narrative driver, the series is strikingly low on visual effects gimmickry which adds to the pure unadulterated dread, consequently helping to elevate its drama quotient.
The production design is fantastic and the use of appropriately unsettling music is top-notch.
I would like to give one final word of advice, something that I religiously preach whenever I recommend a foreign language movie or show. Please try and watch Dark in German, with subtitles on and not the dubbed version. Trust me, it completely takes away from the real experience if you do the latter.
With Narcos, Netflix had already left a huge mark on the foreign language series category, and Dark can surely be considered as a terrific continuation of the aforementioned trend.
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.