Chances are, if you enjoyed Stranger Things (you probably did) and enjoy slightly more serious TV, you’ll love Netflix’s new German language series, Dark. It’s often unfair, even inaccurate, to compare one series to another in this way, but the similarities between the two are unquestionable. Both are filled with 80s nostalgia, feature a shady government facility, mind bending sci-fi elements and have a small, isolated town setting. Dark, however, opens with an unexplained suicide and a bit of time travel theory. From the off, you know you’re in for something much darker than the story of Hawkins, Indiana.
A child is missing in Winden, an isolated town with a hidden and troubling past, as Jonas struggles to come to terms with his father’s suicide and to fit back into the mundane, daily routine of life in Winden. His father’s suicide is unexplained and sudden, leaving a note entitled ‘Do not open before 4th November, 10:13 pm’. Things take a turn for the worst, and the weird, when Jonas is that last person to see Mikkel Nielsen, the second child to go missing, during a late-night hunt for a drug stash in the woods.
Mikkel’s father, Ulrich (who has a striking resemblance to German footballer Bastian Schweinsteiger) is a local police officer caught up in an affair he wants to get out of. The hunt for his missing boy Mikkel takes him on a similarly maddening journey as Jonas. Mikkel finds his way home but finds a strange woman living there and it’s revealed he’s travelled back in time to 1986. After being taken in by a kind nurse, he meets his father, Ulrich, as a teen, and we discover that Ulrich’s younger brother (Mikkel’s uncle) has also gone missing.
We are then presented with three very distinct time periods for this story: 1953, 1986 and the present day, 2019. They are all connected and things soon begin to get weird. Flocks of sheep die en-masse and birds fall out of the sky. The people at the nuclear power station seem to be hiding something. An old man with dementia keeps walking around muttering gibberish (albeit, very important gibberish). Slowly but surely, people being to realise something is not quite right with the town of Winden and begin connecting the dots between the missing child cases that are all perfectly 33 years apart.
This is the first ever German produced Netflix original series, but it certainly makes its mark. With so many characters and intertwining and connected families, it may seem hard to follow, but with the way the series is written and how each character is introduced, it allows you to slowly meet each of the complex and compelling characters, each of whose intentions are entirely believable and rooted with reason.
One of the best things about this series though is its originality (despite its clear inspiration/similarities with Stranger Things). When dealing with time travel and missing children, suicide and affairs, multiple timelines and non-linear narratives, it can be easy to fall into clichés. Dark does well to steer away from this trap and instead offers a refreshing way of telling a complex story without feeling like the writers are doing it to flaunt their ideas (looking at you, Westworld).
Everything in this series is connected and important. If you’re the type of person who scrolls on their phone whilst watching TV and films, then don’t bother. This series requires your undivided attention, especially if you want to fully experience it with German language and English subs, which is by far the best way to view the series versus English dialogue being dubbed over. There’s little to criticise Dark for other than a debatable ending, but the series as a whole is mind-bendingly satisfying with a beautifully ambient, unsettling soundtrack and plenty of big reveals for good measure.