Set in the far away time of 2019, Netflix Original Series Dark (2017), is a German mystery series that explores a trend of disappearing boys from the small (fictitious) town of Winden. While this premise generally sets the tone and motivation of the series, a family who suffered a similar tragedy 33 years earlier begins to notice the accumulating coincidences and patterns and the question changes from ‘where’ are they, to ‘when’.
Aptly named, as the series does a thorough job of creating a tense atmosphere as the concept of ‘dark’ is explored in several ways throughout the season. Primarily, in the Pilot “Secrets”, when one of the series’ main protagonists’, Jonas Kahnwald (Louis Hofmann), and his friends Franziska Doppler (Gina Stiebitz), Bartosz Tiedemann (Paul Lux), Martha, Magnus and Mikkel Nielsen (Lisa Vicari, Moritz Jahn and Daan Lennard Liebrenz) decide to look for Erik Obendorf, the first boy to disappear in 2019.
They go to the opening of a cave in the woods. It’s dark, and let’s just say that I recommend not downloading “Secrets” and watching it on your phone right before you’re about to walk home in the dark, as it’s not the dark that’s so terrifying, but the unknown that lies within. The unknown quickly gains another victim, leaving the town in fear and trying to puzzle together what happened to the missing boys.
Dark follows the story of four families and how they are interlinked: The Kahnwalds, the Nielsens, the Tiedemanns and the Dopplers. As the show progresses you learn the importance of each character and how they tie into the overall story as Dark explores how both the past and future impact on each other and how actions that are intended to prevent something are often the reason for something in the first place.
The show gets many things right, but perhaps most noteworthy is the complexity of the characters. They are all flawed and yet they work to break stereotypes. There is an array of strong female characters including Charlotte Doppler who is the chief of police, Claudia Tiedemann who is placed in charge of the town’s Nuclear Power Plant during the 1980s (and rocks it in badass heels), and Katharina Nielsen who is the school principal.
The show also includes a couple of deaf characters and the use of sign language, including Elisabeth Doppler. Elisabeth is the most innocent looking young girl whose deafness adds to her helplessness. There is a particular scene where she demonstrates how self-aware she is of people’s perceptions of her and how she uses them to her advantage. It’s this self-awareness by the characters that deepens the story of Dark.
In many ways Dark mimics Stranger Things: it’s set in a small town, on the edge of a restricted government facility; it discusses the aftermath of youth going missing and the lengths their families are willing to go to in order to find and save them; it pays homage to the 1980s and it looks at how each distinct age group handles the situation, while separated, demonstrating how each generation differs from one another. However, unlike Stranger Things the series focuses on time rather than alternate dimensions, and how the enemy isn’t necessarily an alien creature but the consequences of our own decisions.
The series is written extremely well and the non-linear storytelling leaves you guessing and working out the backstories and consequences of each character. Whilst the show has a rough, lower budget feel to it, it helps us identify with the small town tone of the series. An array of simple yet effective techniques such as animals dropping dead with no explanation, lights randomly flickering, and references to Chernobyl solidify the creepiness of the show and create a historical atmosphere where you want to find the answers, whilst simultaneously staying as far away from Winden as possible.
The main drawback for me however, is the series is filmed in German, and if you are English speaking, like me you will have to get through the dubbed dialogue. Apparently, the show is a lot better in its native tongue with subtitles, but don’t let that stop you, as, either way, Dark is well worth the watch.
Dark – Season 1
1 December 2017
8 hrs 15 mins