Time is a flat circle, one of the protagonists from True Detective said to us. Doc from Back to the Future said going back in time can cause ripples across the space time continuum and alter the future, and the only way to not let this happen is by not causing any changes in the past. The Spierig brothers’ Predestination explained how the bootstrap paradox can actually exist in a multiverse and how messed up it could get if you become the central figure in the paradox. Rian Johnson’s Looper gave us a look into how real humans would cave in to the dark side once they have access to a continuum and murder weapons.
In the German supernatural mystery thriller Dark, we get a taste of all these elements and more, crammed into a tight, twisting, sprawling narrative compounded by a whole Twin Peaks like town of bleak characters and a mystery box that teases you into total submission.
It makes Dark the best Netflix original of the year.
Dark is also a little like Stranger Things – we’re introduced to a small German town called Winden which is near the woods, where kids are disappearing for an unknown reason, there are two timelines playing simultaneously and the lights of the town flicker on and off for an unknown reason.
But the way Dark unravels is far more thrilling and at times, shocking. This is not a fun kids’ show, this is a show filled with wrecked adults, cracking relationships, dark pasts, jagged motivations, evil streaks and a persistently austere, morbid atmosphere giving the stench of something nasty in the air. But despite the thematic and visual unpleasantness the show works best in the way it renders the rousing moments of wonder and discovery once we begin to strip away the layers of the mystery.
The director and showrunner of the show is Baran bo Odar, who has earlier made the terrific murder mystery The Silence and the kinetic hacktivist thriller Who Am I. Odar combines the filmmaking techniques of both those films in Dark – the box full of puzzle pieces left for the audience to put together along with the protagonist, and a flood of information injected in short bursts that demands your complete attention.
The information in question is tightly integrated, so even a ten second distraction will just derail your link to the show and its mysteries. Those used to gonzos like Twin Peaks will find themselves right at home, but those not accustomed to following the storylines of dozens of characters at a rapid fire pace will tend to rewind the story to catch up, more so because the show often flits from the past and present, showing us the same characters in different ages as we learn more about them.
It is in fact best to not know anything about the show before you watch it, let the element of surprise, cryptic imagery and puzzles grab you by the neck. Horror fans are in for a treat because this is an exquisitely creepy show, beauteous in its macabre. The tragedy of the missing children, lifeless birds that seem to drop from the sky, and sheep found lying on the ground in a field with no explanation for the cause of their deaths is almost poetic in how ghastly it is.
The town of Windell is stunningly realized, by the mid point of the show the geography of the town is absolutely clear in our heads. The torrential rain, the pitch black forest, the creepy cave, the mysterious nuclear power plant all become characters in the show rather than placeholders for the characters, all elevated by the ruthlessly ominous music and cinematography.
It’s also an extremely well cast and acted show – every single actor – from the kids to the adults – delivers a very strong performance – which was so important considering the number of people in the story. Their eyes betray their troubled nature, giving you a window into their past, which is such an integral part of solving the in show mystery.
The only downside to the show is that the story doesn’t end here, but maybe that’s a good thing because you’re left haunted and wanting more from the broken people of Winden as the battle between good and evil brews quietly in the woods.
Dark is currently streaming on Netflix India.