If you like crime, time travel, and head burstingly-complex (but also incredibly well thought-out) plots, you’re probably going to like Dark.
Baran bo Odar and Jantje Friese’s rainy, 10-part mystery thriller is Netflix’s first foray into German-language originals. It’s moody, it’s ambitious, and even though I was constantly struggling to remember who people were or understand what the sweet hell I was watching, it immediately had me hooked.
So what’s it all about?
Dark is the sort of show that will have you spending hours trying to figure out what exactly you’ve just watched, then even more hours theorising about why it happened, what it meant, and what’s going to happen next. It’s the type of TV that lengthy, Reddit-based dissection was made for, in other words — and the sort of show that’s very hard to summarise in just a few sentences.
Still, let’s give it a go.
Dark is set in the small German town of Winden in the year 2019. The town has a controversial nuclear power plant, some fairly ominous caves, and a bunch of families with intertwining back-stories that are every bit as tangled as the plot. At the start of the show the town is in a tense state because a teenage boy has been missing for 10 days. Police haven’t turned up any leads. Then another little boy goes missing, the burned corpse of yet another unnamed child turns up, and the story quickly spirals into a spectacularly complex mish-mash of secrets, murder, and enough time travel to set your head spinning.
Why should you watch it?
Some people have been likening Dark to Stranger Things, but really this comparison only goes so far. Both shows have that small-town-with-weird-stuff-going-on vibe, and they both have coming-of-age elements and a link to the ’80s. But Dark is very different stylistically. Despite the sci-fi elements it probably has more in common with the drizzle-soaked bleakness of The Killing than it does with the Duffer Brothers’ nostalgic love letter to the horror genre.
The show is very much its own beast. You could take certain tropes found in Stranger Things, combine these with the style of The Killing, roll both together with the likes of Primer and Donnie Darko and you might be slightly closer — but you still wouldn’t be quite there.
That’s half the pull of Dark, though. It feels unique. There are nods to plenty of other TV shows and films, but Odar and Friese have created something that feels impressively original.
It’s really, really ambitious too. The storyline is mind-bogglingly epic. The show addresses themes that are on a scale with those tackled in The OA, and then it manages to do something that’s tricky to pull off in speculative genres — it ties everything smoothly together without the need for a deus ex machina ending.
In a story that tackles super-complicated themes over a three-generation-long timespan, it’d be easy for some aspects to fall by the wayside.
Dark has about 20+ main characters, for instance, with even more minor figures who show up in the background — surely some of these are underwritten?
Well, amazingly, no. The characters are just as intricate as the plot itself, with motives and patterns of behaviour that make more sense the more we delve into the town’s complex past.
Also bonus points have to be awarded for this mysteriously sinister priest played by Mark Waschke, who’s basically the German Jude Law:
The sweet, sweet music
Music doesn’t tend to be the first thing people think of when assessing how good a show is, and admittedly it’s not necessarily the most important thing — but it can still make a huge difference.
The good news is the music in Dark is awesome. It’s used at key moments to very good effect and it’s introduced me to a bunch of great new songs (the theme song, in particular — which you can skip to about 1:30 in the video below to listen to — works in tandem with some eerie visuals to create an intro that’s up there with the likes of True Detective).
It’s very rare for me to like the music in a show so much I’d consider seeking out the soundtrack, but in this case that’s something I absolutely will be doing.
Don’t let the subtitles put you off. The honest truth is that the show is so beautifully confusing that the fact it’s in another language will be the least of your worries.
There will be moments when you find yourself forgetting who people are, and what’s going on, and what year the events you’re viewing are even taking place in — but you just have to go with it.
Things may make more sense in the end, and then again they may not. But either way you’ll have an awesome time on the journey.
Dark is available now on Netflix.
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