One recent afternoon I went out for a walk. Later I went out in the same direction for a run. The run wasn’t any more vivifying than the walk.
The low grey sky, the chill, damp air and the deserted streets presented an appalling vista: Some people out walking the dog, an occasional jogger and a guy staring forlornly at the dark and shuttered Nadège patisserie, a place usually packed with trays of colourful macarons on display, and chattering customers.
If this is the new normal, I figured, I don’t want it. I want out and away. And I’m not the only one. One of the few escapes is via your TV and streaming services. Herewith, a short list of lurid, distracting productions from faraway places.
Women of the Night (Netflix) is no masterpiece and made with a devotion to conventional melodramatic crime drama that’s barefaced. The 10-part series from the Netherlands (in Dutch with English subtitles) is about sex, crime, drugs and politics in Amsterdam. It has sometimes ludicrously obvious twists but frankness about the sex industry that’s notable.
Our main character is Xandra Keizer (Karina Smulders, the main reason for watching, as her grave gaze through gently bulging eyes is mesmerizing), a woman whose husband, Michiel (Matteo van der Grijn), has just been appointed top PR advisor to the Mayor of Amsterdam. In the brief opening scene, it’s obvious Xandra is in deep trouble and Michiel is really mad at her. Then we flash back a few weeks to a party celebrating Michiel’s new job. There are powerful men there and one recognizes Xandra as a former escort. Her own lurid flashbacks confirm this. Xandra also has a habit of burning her skin, as if to burn away her past.
One thing leads to another and Xandra meets an old pal, a woman who says she’s making a fortune organizing “party girls” for lavish events for businessmen. Xandra wants a taste of the action and helps her put together a party. Of course she’s dragged back into the sex industry and into trouble with dangerous men who are laundering money through escort services. Teeming with menacing men, tough women and with everybody harbouring secrets, Women of the Night won’t strain your brain, but it’s an escape to a different, hard-nosed world, from the safety of your couch.
Twin Murders: The Silence of the White City (Netflix) is a one-off crime-drama mystery from Spain (with English subtitles). It’s more stylish and provocative than Women of the Night, but be forewarned that the murders at the heart of the story are depicted in disturbing detail. In fact, everything about this TV-movie (planned to be a series of separate stories) is Gothic-erotic from the get-go.
Set in Vitoria-Gasteiz, in the Basque region, it’s about the search for a serial killer who poses his victims, always a pair of them, with some symbolic meaning, in various historic sites. This part of the tangled plot offers history lessons. The lead detective on the case, Kraken (Javier Rey), his glum partner (Aura Garrido) and his cynical boss (Belen Rueda) must figure out a pattern to find the killer. Thing is, they suspect the killer is a follower of a notorious killer already in jail. There’s a touch of The Silence of the Lambs and a dash of The Da Vinci Code in this concoction. Also a fraught meditation on machismo, since both Kraken’s partner and boss are women and he’s very male-broody about things.
Tokyo Vampire Hotel (Amazon Prime Video) is from Japan (with English subtitles) and not for every taste. “Lurid” doesn’t do it justice. It’s unhinged and gloriously colourful and bloody. Made by “punk auteur” Sion Sono (who had several movies at TIFF), the nine-part extravaganza is a mash-up of thriller and vampire-fantasy epic, while staying anchored in the neon Tokyo occupied by cool youngsters.
Off the top there’s a backstory about an ancient war between two battling breeds of vampires. They are the Draculas and the Corvins and it was promised in legend that some Japanese millennials would sort it all out in the year 2021. You can ignore all that. It really starts when Manami (Ami Tomite) goes out to celebrate her 22nd birthday and just misses being the victim of a mass murder. As it happens, some vampires, K from the Dracula clan and Yamada from the Corvin clan, want something from her. Blood flows in the mayhem that follows, until numerous young male and female mortals are lured to a hotel. There, they’re supposed to have sex and become food for the Draculas. Or something.
Made with astonishingly erotic visual aplomb and a devotion to deadpan humour that’s admirable, it’s a mind-blowing journey, not for the faint of heart. You’ll appreciate our ghost-town existence all the better after a taste of it.
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