News Flash—‘Dark’ Is Not ‘Stranger Things’

Dark Poster
Photo courtesy of IMDb

Recently, I finished watching the new Netflix series, ‘Dark.’ Prior to its availability, though, I was reading headlines like these: Dark Review: Netflix’s German Answer To Stranger Things Is Appropriately Titled, And Far More Grim and Netflix’s Dark: Stranger Things meets The Killing in this supernatural Nordic noir, and to be honest, it kind of pissed me off. To be fair, the articles in question did a pretty good job of distinguishing between the two shows, but why compare them at all? Frankly, they have little to do with each other. Sure, both feature a forbidding forest and missing children. But where ‘Stranger Things’ is a mashup of ‘ET,’ ‘Stand By Me,’ and ‘Super-8,’ ‘Dark’ is a brooding meditation on Chernobyl, fate, and time travel.

So, what happens when you go with these kinds of attention-grabbing headlines? In my opinion, you create wrong expectations in the viewer’s mind. You know about expectations, right? Like when you sit down with your kids to watch the new Pixar movie, ‘Coco,’ at the local cinema and are greeted with a nearly thirty-minute short about some stupid buck-tooth snowman named Olaf. Yeah. Well, the press was bad. I think I heard there were riots in Mexico.

If by now you’re thinking of giving the show a try, let me offer a piece of advice. Switch the dialogue to German and add the English subtitles. I know, I know. Most people hate subtitles. But you will be in for a treat. Hearing the actors’ real voices as they navigate through this hell-on-earth is worth it and adds wonderfully to the tension. Trust me on this. Also, pay attention to the music. It’s spot-on.

I’ve found over the years that European storytelling is different from that of America. Europeans like to take their time letting things unfold. They’re more philosophical. They don’t shout, but rather speak in low, measured tones that convey an intensity that acts as a window into a person’s darkest secrets. And they like to minimalize the backstory, so you end up having to work hard to get to the bottom of a character rather than listening to some rube monologuing about what made them the way they are. Or worse, smarmy narration that attempts to put a bow on it all.

I will admit ‘Dark’ is not for everyone. But if you want to explore something different, give it a try. Why, you may even be tempted to get a taste of Nordic Noir a la ‘The Keeper of Lost Causes.’ And don’t get me wrong. I loved ‘Stranger Things’—well, the first season, anyway. All I’m saying is, ‘Dark’ truly stands on its own. It doesn’t need help from some other successful American series.

Movie Review—‘The Keeper of Lost Causes’

[The Keeper of Lost Causes Poster]
Photo courtesy of IMDb

The Keeper of Lost Causes’ (2013)
Director: Mikkel Nørgaard
Writers: Jussi Adler-Olsen (novel), Nikolaj Arcel
Stars: Nikolaj Lie Kaas, Per Scheel Krüger, Troels Lyby
Crime | Mystery | Thriller
Denmark-Germany-Sweden
Not Rated
Log Line: Chief detective Carl Mørck and his assistant Assad become involved in a five-year-old case concerning the mystery of politician Merete Lynggaard’s disappearance—a journey that takes them deep into the undercurrent of abuse and malice that lurks beneath the polished surface of Scandinavia.

Okay, so I’m late to the game. I had no idea Nordic Noir was a thing. I’ve been enjoying dark Scandinavian movies like the Millenium Trilogy (‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,’ etc.) for years and am thrilled someone decided to actually categorize them. Yeah, thrilled. Anyway, I caught another one on Netflix the other night—a Danish film with what is probably the worst title ever—‘The Keeper of Lost Causes.’ I don’t know, maybe it sounds better in Danish.

Don’t let the crappy title fool you, though. This is an outstanding film. And like a Nordic winter, it’s cold and spare, with a protagonist who is as dysfunctional and people-averse as they come. I’m not prepared to reveal any spoilers here. Let me just say that, as police procedurals go, this one really stands out. The main character, Carl, is himself dark and unapproachable. But in the best tradition of antiheroes, he is driven to seek out Truth—no matter what that may mean for his languishing career as a homicide detective.

This film features the usual cast of Scandinavian loonies—especially the blonde and creepy Lasse—with a wonderfully empathetic performance by Carl’s sidekick, Assad who, when asked why he isn’t following orders, claims his Danish isn’t that good. Nice touch!

I can highly recommend this film. Though there’s little on-screen violence, it’s creepy as hell as sucks you in like a Scottish peat bog. And here’s the best part: Netflix also has the two ‘Department Q’ sequels, ‘The Absent One’ and ‘A Conspiracy of Faith,’ both which I plan to catch very soon.