Oct 5, 2022 3:30 pm
It’s long been likely — and in the past year closer to an almost certainty — that Netflix’s true TV strength lies in its international series. Aside from the rare organic word-of-mouth runaway sensation, these shows rarely get the publicity or attention that their star-studded, algorithm-optimized counterparts enjoy. For other streaming services with a similar wealth in their libraries, those international series also tend to be afterthoughts.
Yet, with fall upon us and the annual search for stories that pair well with chillier nights and decor the color of dying leaves, it’s also a perfect time to sample the global TV just right for the season. Particularly when it comes to horror series, these shows have a knack for combining the universal and the specific. They tap into what unsettles us, digging into our subconscious from painfully particular perspectives.
Some are designed to weigh heavy on your soul, while others are better for a dip-in quick fix. What follows isn’t intended as an exhaustive list of options, but for those looking to widen out their seasonal viewing lists, here are a half-dozen series to consider (plus some non-synopsis reasons to do so).
Priests and horror have long gone hand in hand, and there are a bevy of recent shows that have taken that tradition and really run with it. There’s “Evil” stateside, and Paramount Plus has “The Envoys” to go with Netflix’s “Diablero,” a pair of shows that find clergy confronting the unexplained in towns around Mexico. But as wild as each of those can get at points, there’s really not another show on TV that can measure up to the sheer audacity that director Álex de la Iglesia and co-writer Jorge Guerricaechevarría serve up with “30 Coins.”
Even with the show’s brash opening credits sequence and the very idea behind its title, it would be selling the show short to call this a mere biblical horror riff. Yes, its characters are contending with an escalating collection of supernatural terrors brought about by the search for Judas’ long-scattered pieces of silver. But Iglesias treats this series like a metaphysical sandbox to toss in every bit of grotesquery he can get his hands on. Possession, hauntings, aliens, portals, ouija boards, snapped bones, and a relic-fueled conspiracy: If you want your horror shouted from the rooftops (where characters are flinging themselves off of shortly thereafter), this is the place to start. And if all that’s not enough to entice you, maybe the newest main cast member for the show’s upcoming Season 2 is enough to take the plunge.
The opening few minutes of “Ares” is a perfectly executed horror series intro. It’s confident, stylistically sharp, and capped off with a jarring right turn that demands you take notice. It’s also a pretty effective primer for the series that comes after it. What begins as an ominous initiation process for incoming student Rosa (Jade Olieberg) gradually takes on stakes that go well beyond secret chambers and ritualistic robes.
As things begin to spiral for Rosa and her friends are caught up in a conspiracy along with her, “Ares” does an incredible job of letting the dread build out from characters being supernaturally calm when facing the impossible. This isn’t a place filled with massive freakouts or relentless shrieking. The horror of “Ares” comes from people so overwhelmed by what’s in front of their faces that they can hardly move.
Sometimes, directors Giancarlo Sanchez and Michiel ten Horn stage those moments like you’re overhearing or peeking into something you shouldn’t be privy to. These characters are in over their heads just as much as an unsuspecting audience member might be. All that’s left to do is give over to a lavish, sinister display that filets everything in its path like a jewel-encrusted knife crafted in another age and dimension.
Proof that not all horror anthologies are created equal, this Swedish collection of half-hour moral tales feels like the purest throwback to the TV scares of decades past. Even the kitschy framing device (featuring main characters from these six episodes as fellow passengers on a doomed liminal bus) is a hint to the kind of stories that come after. They take place in very different locations, some of them sprawling out across an eerie countryside, but they have the feel of old-school chamber pieces. Efficient setups, unexpected twists, and endings that’ll give you a twisted smile to go with the gut punch. Think of it as an “Inside No. 9” with an added layer of bloodiness on top for good measure.
And it makes sense to start right at the top. The first episode finds a family moving to a rural community after facing some financial setbacks. Their new home’s local secret is the kind of setup designed to test how far one of its characters will go and how far the audience is willing to metaphorically follow them. When the violence inevitably comes (it’s right in the title), it’s more an expression of what’s already been set in motion. It’s the kind of episode that can work as a horror d’oeuvre or entree, depending on your appetite.
Of all these horror series, “Cracow Monsters” is the one that has one foot furthest into the realm of fantasy, too. But one of the strengths of this show is that those ideas work in tandem. Set in a Poland caught in a spiritual tug of war only a select few are aware of, Alex (Barbara Liberek) stumbles into a select group of students and the professor trying to help them hone their special abilities. That’s about where the similarities between this and That Franchise With an X stop, though. This is a show that’s not afraid to get grimy, especially when the things that crawl up from gutters and lurk around morgue corners emerge in practical ways.
It has its share of otherworldly forces, but it’s mostly rooted in that time-tested theme of disturbing Nature. Alex and her new fellow folklore enthusiasts have to contend with the consequences of someone drudging up something that should have stayed hidden. So rather than pick between centering on one person’s entry into this world or go for a bigger team approach, “Cracow Monsters” opts for both. Stories with apocalyptic implications can be tedious. “Cracow Monsters” comes up with ways to keep all of those little successes and big consequences rooted in the people trying to make sense of it all.
Some of the most effective horror comes from patience, an idea that drives so many stories in this collection inspired by legendary tales/beings from different Asian cultures. Even though they’re joined by the same overall theme, it’s a true creative anthology in a creative sense. Many of these hourlong episodes have a gradual build, unraveling some folks’ fates in roughly real time. And often, when those whispered-about forces become real, they come in forms that aren’t too different from the humans who brought them there.
It’s not just monsters for monsters’ sake. Each of these stories find some human tendency or weakness or preoccupation and channel it all into the things we talk about but never see. The standout from this group might just be Yuhang Ho’s “Toyol,” a story that takes an ambitious Malaysian politician and makes him a case study for ambition and the legacy that one man’s action can leave. It’s sharp, it’s nasty, and goes well beyond spatter on a wall in the ways it’ll leave you unsettled.
There are also no easy resolutions here. Dealing with whatever figure from myth is rarely as easy as defeating it. Whether ghost or demon or resurrected being, they’re often born out of generational trauma that one person alone can’t make right. The fact that so many of these stories are built to reach out from both the beginning and the end is maybe its strongest asset.
For a show with a literary-minded main character, “Marianne” has fun playing with the idea of what makes a story. This French Netflix series begins with a reality blurring look into the work of hit YA author Emma Larsimon (Victoire Du Bois). Right as she’s ready to move on to books aimed at an adult audience, a person from her past and a figure from her books start to converge with some frightening results.
It’s almost impossible to talk about “Marianne” without acknowledging Mireille Herbstmeyer, whose performance is not only the show’s greatest special effect, it gives birth to a character who instantly makes her mark as a legendarily unsettling horror antagonist. There are times when Emma — looking to fill the voids in her personal life with drinking and anything else that can distract her from career expectations — can be her own worst enemy. Having a woman with a penchant for making tiny skin purses is a pretty strong second place.
The show certainly makes some shrewd tonal shifts, dropping its own mystical mystery at points to remember that it’s also great at setting up punchlines, too. Emma’s seaside hometown also makes for a very Castle Rock-y place that makes for some nice landscapes when actively horrifying things aren’t happening in the foreground. Toss in a page-flipping framing device that puts an exclamation point on some of the show’s tensest moments and “Marianne” feels right at home (as many of these horror series do) in the intersection between the light and the dark.
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This Article is related to: Television and tagged folklore, Halloween, HBO Max, Horror, Marianne, Netflix
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