21 Dec Review: DARK Netflix Original German Horror Series
So, Netflix has a new German horror/sci-fi series. It’s actually Netflix’s first ever German series which is pretty cool. If you know me/follow this blog it will come as no surprise I have been all over Dark since it was released at the start of this month. In fact, I’ve been excited about Dark since I first saw the trailer months ago.
I had a few underlying doubts at first which weren’t allayed much after finally watching the first two episodes. Iconic yellow coat, missing child, distrust of a nuclear plant, and teenagers venturing into the woods. And let’s not forget an old man muttering “It’s happening again.”
…I feel like I’ve seen this before. *cough* Stranger Things… *cough* IT… *cough* Twin Peaks.
It’s the incorporation of this very 2017 combination of horror and sci-fi tropes that gave Dark a bit of a slow start for me. After a summer of Twin Peaks and IT then Stranger Things in October it felt a bit too soon for another show of this ilk to join the sci-fi/horror ranks. By episode three however I was sufficiently invested in Winden, the bleak city Dark is set within.
Distinctly lacking those wacky moments of comic relief found in the aforementioned horror/sci-fi trifecta of 2017, the mood and atmosphere of Winden is more comparable to the melancholia of (brilliant) French series Les Revenants. The arresting current of pathos running through Dark, paired with an increasing sense of menace, is heightened through the perpetual palette of greys and browns that form Winden.
Much like Twin Peaks, the connections and small dramas between the inhabitants of Winden is at the forefront. Connectivity itself is a crucial theme within the show and one that is addressed by an unknown, unsettling narrator when the show opens:
“We trust that time is linear. That it proceeds eternally, uniformly. Into infinity. But the distinction between past, present and future is nothing but an illusion. Yesterday, today and tomorrow are not consecutive, they are connected in a never-ending circle. Everything is connected.”
Now, imagine that spoken in German (because you must, must watch this show in the original German), and you have a very creepy yet nonetheless intriguing start.
There is a point in Dark however when the number of small dramatic sub-plots and characters become hard to keep track of. Especially when we’re following characters and families stories extended into three timelines in the years 2019, 1986 and 1953.
“The question is not where, but when” is the tagline that confronts us in the trailer and promotional images for Dark. Time is set up as a driving theme within the show before we even understand its influence on the… let’s say eerie happenings in Winden.
The series begins in the aftermath of the death of Michael Kahnwald, the father of our teenage protagonist and vibrant yellow coat wearer, Jonas Kahnwald. Jonas has just returned to Winden after a spell in a mental hospital. Upon his return he learns that a local teenager has also gone missing. Meanwhile, streetlights and indoor lighting across the town flicker in unison and dead birds fall from the sky. Soon after, a flock of sheep are found dead. While the events are inarguably out of the ordinary, as citizens de-sensitized to strange goings on in small towns throughout film history, it isn’t so strange to us. Nonetheless, there is a lingering unease the longer that the case of the missing teenager goes on without any answers but rather further strange developments.
The “present” (2019) is inextricably woven with past and the future. Events occurring 33 years ago and 66 years ago somehow inform the events of the present day. This jumping between present, past and eventually future within each episode becomes essential to approaching the answers to what exactly is happening in Winden. Dark actually draws comparisons to Lost through how integral the past is in informing the momentum of the show. There’s an emotional undercurrent conveyed through flashbacks, as we see the journeys our characters have been on throughout their lives. These candid comparisons between past and present are in the same vein as Lost.
What I love about Dark is how it strips down the preconceived ways in which we understand time; that the past is in the past, the future is yet to be written and we simply exist in the present. This is both exciting and difficult to get to grips with. In understanding Dark we have cause to consider eternalism, ontology and fate. Are all our actions pre-destined? Is the past really in the past or does it exist somewhere in the universe? Do we have any real control of the future? The tantalising way in which questions like this are left hanging in relation to the storyline makes you all the more invested.
In addition to being a beautifully shot piece of TV with an absorbing storyline to boot, I can’t finish this piece without including the incredible soundtrack. It’s probably the only show where I haven’t skipped the opening but rather watched it every single time. No joke. It’s mesmerising and simultaneously creepy as we watch and find shapes and other worlds through the symmetry of various objects and landscapes. The opening song “Goodbye” couldn’t be more perfect in evoking that melancholic, haunting feeling that permeates the show at every turn.
While on the topic of time and fate, it’s worth mentioning that famous German 80’s singer, Nena, has an eerily pertinent song included in the soundtrack – “Irgendwie, irgendwo, irgendwann” (“Anyhow, anywhere, anytime”). Watch fabulously 80’s video here, there’s ROLLERSKATES.
With lyrics like these it almost feels as though it this song was perhaps fated for Dark…
“We fall through space and time, the direction is sublime.Moths fly into the light, the same as you and I.Somehow the future starts somewhere deep within our hearts.”