If you’ve watched Stranger Things or Mindhunter or The OA or any Netflix show with ‘mystery’ at its core, chances are you’ve been recommended Dark, but scrolled right past.
Dark’s high concept is almost certainly what made you scroll instead of hitting ‘watch’.
“Stranger Things for adults”, “Stranger Things, but German”.
[Insert Elevator pitch featuring Stranger Things here].
But here’s the thing: Dark is actually nothing like Stranger Things. In many ways Dark is the ‘anti-Stranger Things’. You might even say Dark is the ‘Upside Down’ version of Stranger Things.
And that’s precisely why you should watch it.
Stranger Things is ‘The Goonies’. Dark is ‘Let The Right One In’. Stranger Things breaks up tenser moments with humour and comforting pop culture references. Dark forces you to wear the weight of its oppressive atmosphere.
Dark is bleak. Dark is difficult to watch in parts. Unlike Stranger Things, which helpfully guides its audience through twists and turns, you wonder if Dark even gives a shit about you. Dark demands you watch carefully, demands that you pay attention, and punishes you if you don’t.
Dark is the Dark Souls of binge-inducing mystery shows.
Dark and Stranger Things occupy opposite ends of the same spectrum. Much like Stranger Things, Dark is a show about missing children and warped dimensional rifts. It’s also a show about the 1980s as a decade. Unlike Stranger Things, Dark splits its time between present day and 1986 and is less a celebration of a shared nostalgia than a narrative device to help deliver cunning twists and context.
Superficially Dark is a story about time travel, and centres around the disappearance of a young child (Mikkel). But Dark is really a story about the breakdown of family structures and the ways families brutalise one other. It is relentlessly grim, but anchored with some incredible performances. Following several characters across multiple different time periods is an ambitious narrative feat, and Dark often stumbles (particularly during its opening episodes) but at no point do its performances or characters feel less than compelling. And as the links between multiple different characters unfurl, Dark somehow manages to feel epic and parochial all at once.
What Dark is very, very good at is tension.
Its sound track swells and clanks and unsettles. The pace is brutally slow in ways that will frustrate but I enjoyed the space, the moments it allows to really pick at the characters and the plot. Like other ‘prestige’ shows, Dark demands to be taken seriously, but somehow never feels pretentious (hi Westworld). Dark’s pacing is deliberate, never indulgent, and when the reveals come they feel meaningful, not cheap.
It’s a must watch. Just make sure you immediately switch from the English audio dub to German with English subtitles.
Because yeah, that’s a bad time.
Dark is now streaming on Netflix.