Readers write to me in search of advice. Not advice about love, marriage, finances or where to find the perfect ironing board. Thank heavens for that. They’re seeking guidance and good counsel on where to find distracting TV for the times we are living in.
Often they include information about themselves: interested in global affairs, concerned about climate change, worried about racism and a bit embarrassed they’re watching TV when they intended to read Gibbon’s The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. (Spoiler alert: The Barbarians did it.) Me, not arriving in the curating-TV racket today or yesterday, I intuit what they want: thrills.
The good thriller is what most seek, and that’s fine. Freud – another fella worth reading – was on top of this, noting our fixation on what he called “the uncanny,” which he recognized as “that class of the terrifying which leads back to something long known to us, once very familiar.” So there. Here are three new adventures in the genre, all uncanny and mind-blowing, recently arrived on Netflix.
Sky Rojo (in Spanish with English subtitles) is lurid neon, fast-paced action and filled with suggestions of sex and violence. It is not, however, as superficial as that brief description hints. The eight-episode series (most are about 35 minutes long) has excellent pedigree, being created by the people behind the dazzling Spanish series Money Heist. For all its colour, car chases and Tarantino-esque whiffs of sadism, it’s a vivid, thundering denunciation of the sexual exploitation of women.
On the island of Tenerife, three women, Coral (Veronica Sanchez), Wendy (Lali Esposito) and Gina (Yany Prado), are employed as dancers and sex workers at Club Las Novias, a high-end nightclub and brothel located in the middle of nowhere. It’s owned by Romeo (Asier Etxeandia), who wears his sadistic streak on his sleeve. When he attacks one of the trio, they fight back together, leave him for dead and escape. There follows an on-the-run thrill ride as the trio try to stay ahead of Romeo’s henchmen.
Like Money Heist, this series relies heavily on the intricate weaving of voice-over narration with action. The point, you know full well, is to offer an inflammatory treatment of sex work in Spain. How did these three women end up trapped in a brothel in Tenerife? Why is Romeo so gently caring about the women in his family, and so enraged by the three escapees? The series is drenched in the visual style of Latin pulp and sometimes precariously balanced in its depiction of that sun-drenched place where glamour and ruthless economics meet. Often what is presented as unnerving violence stays as suggestion, not enactment. Not for the easily rattled and leaning closer to the avant-garde than mainstream.
Sentinelle (in French with English subtitles) can be found listed as both a movie and a TV-movie. Never mind that; it’s a one-off and a lacerating revenge-thriller. Klara (Olga Kurylenko), a thirtysomething French soldier, serves in Syria and has a traumatic experience when she misjudges a volatile situation. Back in France, she’s assigned to the local anti-terrorism patrols in Nice. She’s bored, knowing the heavily armed patrols are for public assurance and not real police work. She remains traumatized, on edge and heavily medicated.
Trying to fit in, she goes to a nightclub with her younger sister, Tania (Marilyn Lima). Next day she discovers Tania was raped by a Russian businessman. The local cops are reluctant to get involved, so Klara sets out on personal revenge. That journey is taut and seething with violence against the men trying to stop her. There is no warmth or wit in Sentinelle; it’s an exercise in unsubtle retributive justice. Klara doesn’t want to extract a confession; she wants certain people dead. There’s an underlying theme about the rot in France being anchored in rich businessmen, not foreign threats, but Klara has neither the time nor inclination for subtlety.
Retribution, a BBC/Netflix miniseries, is not as new, and aired in Britain as One of Us. It starts with a murder and then becomes a twisted, intense story of family secrets and lies. We meet Adam and Grace at their wedding. They grew up on side-by-side family farms in Scotland. On return from their honeymoon, they’re both murdered. We see the killer, a drug-addled figure. He heads to where the victims’ families live. They find and cage him. Then the backstories emerge. Who among them is truly burdened and evil? Tightly wound, the miniseries is dominated by Juliet Stevenson as Adam’s enraged, stricken mother. It’s gloom-filled and more centred on morality than murder.
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