Stranger Things is a horror TV series running on Netflix wherein a group of kids become embroiled in a sort of government experiment gone bad, disrupting a backwoods community. In it, the local police work with the frantic family of one of the kids who’s gone missing, and the overall plot is exposed. Eventually, several of the mysteries are answered (leaving enough behind to hint at another season), and a certain amount of happily ever after occurs.
I like Stranger Things. I don’t love it, though. It’s amusing and carries that whiff of nostalgia, but what keeps me from really falling for it is that it’s a bit twee. It has that Stephen King quality (obviously, as intended) wherein it’ll always have at least a vaguely happy ending and, in most ways, things end up as they were. Or if not, it glosses over what was lost.
Dark is a horror TV series running on Netflix wherein a group of kids become embroiled in a sort of government experiment gone bad, disrupting a backwoods community. In it, the local police work with the frantic family of one of the kids who’s gone missing, and the overall plot is exposed. Eventually, several of the mysteries are answered (leaving enough behind to hint at another season), and
a certain amount of happily ever after occurs the writhing turmoil of that backwoods community is exposed, past lies and misdeeds are laid bare. Secrets are dug up, relationships and lives are ruined, and there can be no turning back.
I like Dark. I almost love it, because it doesn’t fuck around with the whole ‘shit ends up ok’ side of it. Oh, and it’s German. A few quick notes about Dark to get out there early:
- Do not listen to the English voiceovers. They’re not very well done. Listen to the German audio with subtitles, because the voices convey a lot more anguish. You need the anguish.
- The deaf girl that only appears in one ep, though she features heavily in said ep, is the best character and it’s criminal that she didn’t stick around.
- The last 10 minutes of the whole series basically ruins it.
Otherwise, the whole Stranger Things formula is present, but distilled towards the horror side. Evil presence that nobody can define, check. Disappearing children, check. Cop who’s dealing with a lot of his own trauma, including child gone from his life, hella-check. But it goes beyond that. The teens that get focused on are important here, but the adults in their lives aren’t the doddering, stereotypically-disconnected Peanuts-style mouthpieces: they have they own grim interrelationships and connections to what’s going on, and while some crimes are greater than others, literally nobody in the show (except the deaf girl, <3) is innocent.
I’ve been middlingly-negative on most of the Netflix TV shows I’ve watched for the past couple of years. They’re not all bad but a lot just seem fleeting and weightless. Dark sits with you. It gnaws at you. It’s not one that goes towards some kind of primordial fear or anything, but it instills a sort of conspiratorial unease that genuinely only gets deeper as the secrets are revealed. And it’s actually difficult to put a finger on how or why it did so well with that.
The overall story doesn’t sit still, really. As events start rolling your mind begins to fill in the blanks it leaves for you. Oh, there must be a monster you think at first. And then oh, it’s a human monster? Maybe… they certainly left one of the human monsters overtly unexplained. Oh, it’s a government coverup monster, and then oh, it’s a corporate coverup monster… but what is this guy doing and why, and is he related, and OH GOD HOW DID HE JUST…? It doesn’t answer it. Thrown into the mix, very prominently but cryptically, is time travel, so several characters have two or three actors, tying it all together even more deeply than you’re ready for at the start. And then they go into the this-person-turns-out-to-be-that-person stuff which is where the real mindfuck starts.
The writing is off the rails in the best possible way, for sure. A lot of it is the acting: I don’t know many German actors, and can only speak a smidgen of the language, but the weight of feeling they conveyed even in spite of me having to sit reading subtitles the whole time was impressive. There’s also a direction and cinematography that… well Dark isn’t just the title of the show. It’s just… it’s amazing.
But now I have to point out, very spoiler-y, that those last 10 minutes wreck it. I won’t say why or how… after a critical confrontation that hadn’t been broadcast very far ahead of that, and the setup for the next season occurs with an abrupt change. The sense of foreboding either vanishes entirely or changes its tone so completely as to be unrecognizable. I hope I’m wrong: I’ll definitely be watching the next round of it regardless. But it soured my otherwise near-complete adoration of it all.
I’m not generally a fan of horror. There are notable exceptions to this: I think Alien is probably one of the greatest horror movies ever made, Pet Semetary is the only book I’ve ever read that shook me up enough that I couldn’t sleep after reading it, and Vampire: Bloodlines had the most amazingly terrifying level of a game I’ve played wherein you’re petrified even though there’s nothing there to actually hurt you. But each of those distinctly shies away from the ‘jump scare horror’ (ok, they give in to it now and then) and focuses on that slow-burn horror where your imagination is doing the dirty work for you. That’s the good stuff.
Dark is absolutely the latter. Even when it solves its riddles for you you’re still not sure you can trust it, you’re not sure you believe that things are ok. And I promise you, they’re not. Because you, and every one of the characters you just studied, have to carry knowledge of all of their sins along with you.