Is 'Dark' the German answer to 'Stranger Things'?

Dark (Photo: Netflix)
Dark (Photo: Netflix)

Gloomy caves, dead birds falling from the sky, people trapped in a room and forced to listen to bad 1980s dance music — all the portents of misery are present in Dark, a German series premiering on Netflix on Friday. Set in a German town bordered by an old nuclear power plant and an even older forest, this supernatural thriller piles on the ominousness. Early on, a 15-year-old boy disappears; whether he’s a runaway or a kidnap victim or a murder victim, no one knows. What they do know is that in this village — the small town of Winden — 33 years ago, a child disappeared under similar circumstances. Are these two events connected?

This is the question posed by Dark, which has been much-hyped here and abroad as Germany’s breakthrough into the cool-kid marketplace of ambitious, arch, ambivalent, arty drama — this is Germany’s opportunity to come up with its own Twin Peaks, its own Stranger Things. To that end, co-creators Baran bo Odar and Jantje Friese populate Winden with many poker-faced troubled souls. It takes a couple of episodes to figure out which guy is related to which woman, which upright citizen is having an affair with another. In the hope of attracting the teen Netflix-subscriber base, care has been taken to cast a number of handsome adolescents who look good while standing in the rain staring meaningfully at each other. No expense was spared in creating a soundtrack with a nonstop pulse of throbbing synthesizer spookiness — the effect is to make even the most banal breakfast conversation carry a threat of menace over buttered toast.

I know the Germans are said to be a serious lot, but the nonstop grimness of Dark strains both credulity and interest. Over the course of the three episodes I watched, Dark became both more complex and easier to disengage from. One test as to whether you’ll be drawn in may be to read these lines of sample dialogue. If you find them profound mind-blowers, Dark is for you: “The past doesn’t just influence the future — the future also influences the past.” “The beginning is the end and the end is the beginning.” “Yesterday, today, and tomorrow are not consecutive; they are connected in a never-ending circle.” At about the time that “never-ending circle” thing was uttered, I found myself overcome with a powerful urge to switch over to another Netflix show, Godless, and have some fun rewatching Jeff Daniels chew the frontier scenery.

Dark is streaming now on Netflix.

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