Dark Review: Netflix's German Answer To Stranger Things Is Appropriately Titled, And Far More Grim

Jonas in his yellow raincoat

It's no secret that Netflix has forever changed the game of television production. The streaming service has produced original content at an impressively aggressive rate, ranging from successes like Orange is the New Black to critically divisive (and cancelled) shows like The Wachowski's Sense8. Perhaps the most popular show on the service at the moment is the supernatural period piece Stranger Things, and now a new German language series Dark seems to be echoing some of the show's main themes. But unlike the Duffer Brothers' dramedy that featured plenty of moments of levity from the child cast, Dark is appropriately titled, and void of comedy.

Dark was created by the German duo Baran bo Odar and Jantje Friese who previously collaborated on English film Sleepless and German projects The Silence and Who Am I -- No System Is Safe. The series follows a small German suburb, and four separate families who are grappling with interpersonal issues. And while tales of unfaithful spouses was interesting enough, the supernatural and terrifying aspects of the series soon come to light. A child from the community is missing, and once another kid disappears under mysterious circumstances at the end of the first episode, it becomes clear that something insidious is happening in the community.

Dark has an absolutely massive starring cast of German actors, which make up the various denizens of the small town. Some standouts include the brooding teenager Jonas (Louis Hofmann), missing kid Erik (Paul Radom), and cheating husband Ulrich (Oliver Masucci). Because the adults in town are just as important as the teenage protagonists, the series can feel a bit dense at times. There is an entire town of characters to get to know, and given that most of Netflix's audience will be using subtitles to watch the series, it may take a few episodes for you to truly understand everyone's relationships with each other.

The Stranger in the Hotel Room

The overall density of Dark and the large ensemble cast will no doubt throw some casual TV fans, and there's strong possibility that folks will drop off after an episode or two. The necessity of subtitles will also contribute to this, as audiences will have to truly focus in order to discern the plot and generations of players that factor into the show's narrative. But those Netflix subscribers who are willing to let Dark unravel organically and invest their time in the show will likely be kept interested through the show's overall tension and elements of horror. Each episode contains moments that are truly terrifying, much more so than anything we've seen in Stranger Things.

Of course, there are bound to be endless comparisons between Dark and Stranger Things, as they do have some major of similarities. Both follow the supernatural aspect of a small community, and feature a cast of kids that seems all to happy to begin investigating the goings on themselves. From the start, it appears that the power plant in Dark's little German town is up to something shady, and the residents of the town seem blithely unaware of what the organization is up to behind their guarded gates. Sounds like Hawkins Lab, no? There's also a love triangle that feels similar to the one that Nancy is at the heart of, and the overall narrative kicks off with a small boy seemingly disappearing into thin air.

But the comparisons should probably stop there, as Dark has a fair amount of narrative elements that will separate itself from its American peer. In particular, a major theme of the series is time, and time travel is hinted at from the first episode's establishing shots. This element to the story gives Dark's mysterious events an even more interesting perspective. Additionally, the cast of kids isn't a bunch of middle schoolers. Instead, they're teenagers who are far more mature, dealing with issues like sex and drugs (but no rock and roll). This choice keeps the series mostly void of levity, and allows the kids to function independently of the town's adults.

Jonas putting it all together

Some of the more impatient Netflix subscribers will no doubt find the need for English subtitles frustrating, as so many TV fans are used to half watching shows while endlessly scrolling on their smart devices. This could be a deal breaker for some, but it also has the potential to work in Dark's favor. Because you can't look away without potentially missing out on important plot details, you're forced to truly focus on what is being shown on screen. As such, you can't help but notice every frame of the season, and may become far more invested than if you had the ability to lose focus or do another task mid-binge watch.

The performances are definitely a high point of Dark, as each of the characters are truly captivating during their time on screen. It's unclear exactly who is friend and who is foe, as the mystery surrounding the various disappearances (some of which date back decades) slowly unravels. With the audience slowly become privy to the events surrounding the town's mystery, they're able to identify with The Stranger (Andreas Pietschmann), as he also quests for the truth. Each German speaking actor brings intensity to their performance, as director Baran bo Odar quickly cuts from one character to the next, often without being bogged down by transitions or having to do much set up. Even the minor characters have the ability to drive scenes, and you may soon become perturbed that some of the actors aren't more well known in the states.

It's no surprise that Dark is hitting Netflix so soon after the release of Stranger Things 2. Given the immense popularity of the sci-fi series, Dark will likely pop up in many subscribers' "because you watched" suggestion list. Fans need a new supernatural show to binge watch after completing the former, and the similarities may actually help to get some casual fans invested in the show. And if Dark manages to be a success, perhaps we'll seen more of an international presence in Netflix's original programming. All it takes is one hit, and Dark certainly has what it takes to open up a new market, and therefore change the landscape of streaming shows once again.

Dark will be available in its entirety on December 1, 2017. In the meantime, be sure to check out midseason premiere list to plan your next binge watch, and our cancellation list to see if your favorite Netflix show got the chop, now that the streaming service has begun trimming the fat. Fingers crossed that Dark doesn't meet the same fate.

Corey Chichizola
Movies Editor

Corey was born and raised in New Jersey. Double majored in theater and literature during undergrad. After working in administrative theater for a year in New York, he started as the Weekend Editor at CinemaBlend. He's since been able to work himself up to reviews, phoners, and press junkets-- and is now able to appear on camera with some of his favorite actors... just not as he would have predicted as a kid.