'Dark' Review: Netflix Introduces You To The German 'Stranger Things'

Kids on bikes. A small town with a dark secret. An underbelly of supernatural forces threatening the town at large. A government building conducting experiments that will lead to further problems. No, it's not Stranger Things, it's Netflix's first German-language original series Dark.Note: This Dark review attempts to be as spoiler-free as possible, but some minor spoilers were inevitable.On the surface, it's easy to see why Netflix snapped-up this German import from Baran bo Odar and Jantje Friese: the Stranger Things connections are impossible to miss, and the show's creators have no trouble leaning into them. In an interview, Friese said, "It's really exciting because if all those people who watched Stranger Things will at least think about watching Dark, I think that's a great opportunity for us...So keep comparing it."Yet once you get beyond the initial shock of the Stranger Things similarities, you'll find Dark is a much more somber, more expressionistic show. While it does deal with events in the 1980s, it's not tinged with nostalgia. Nor is there a sense of Spielbergian adventure at play. Instead, Dark is comprised of ticking clocks, shadowy rooms and long, cold stares. It gets under your skin almost immediately, bringing a chill with it.Dark opens with a suicide by hanging, and just gets even bleaker from there. In a German suburb flanked by ominous woods, a teen named Erik (Paul Radom) has gone missing. His disappearance has put the whole town on edge, but unfortunately for Dark's characters, it won't be the only disappearance in the show.  The town may not know where Erik is, but we do. Or at least, we have some sort of idea: he's locked in a brightly colored children's bedroom, where a TV blares all day, and what looks to be an electric chair sits ominously in the center of the room. Occasionally, an unseen figure will enter the room, strap Erik into the chair, and do...something to him. Dark plays all of this very close to the chest: we're never sure just what is going on here, but we know it can't be good.

One night, a group of teens hike into the woods, with young Mikkel (Daan Lennard Liebrenz) tagging along. After the group flees the woods in panic after being spooked, they notice Mikkel is missing. A search party is formed. Now the town has two missing children. And it looks like they're going to have a hell of a time finding Mikkel, because we soon learn that the boy has somehow ended up back in time. He finds himself in the same down, but in the 1980s, where he soon encounters younger versions of his parents and other townspeople. It's sort of like Back to the Future with a body count, and everyone's miserable.Things only get weirder from here, including flocks of birds dropping dead in both timelines, a mysterious cave that seems to be the connection to the past and present, an unidentified child who turns up dead in the present but may be from the past, and more. All of this unfolds with an eerie calmness; what we're watching is distressing and disturbing, but bo Odar and Friese study it all with an almost scientific detachment – we as an audience are here to observe all this trauma, not interact with it.While Stranger Things may traffic in excitement and adventure, Dark is more concerned with atmosphere. The autumnal setting of the series blankets everything in fading golds and murky browns; dampness and death are everywhere; everything, no matter how mundane, seems like an omen – a portent of certain doom. This is a chilly, chilling show; the TV equivalent of curling up by the fire with a creepy, classic, classy horror novel. If you're in search of jump-scares and tangible terrors, look elsewhere. Dark is more concerned with the slow burn, and creating the subtle, increasing feeling that all is not right in the world. That the shadows are growing longer, and that terrible things are lurking within them.The slow burn won't be for everyone, and Dark may suffer from a narrative that's just a little too impenetrable. The first episode alone feels buried under tireless exposition, as the show jumps from scene to scene, character to character, establishing the multiple people we're going to have to keep track of. But once you get beyond the slightly overwhelming initial episode, Dark settles into a nice, eerie rhythm. In the end, don't be surprised if you find yourself growing obsessed with Dark, burning through its episodes as you hunger for more. If Netflix was hoping for another Stranger Things-like hit, they may have just found it.  Dark arrives on Netflix December 1, 2017.