What if everything that came from the past was actually influenced by the future?
That's the main premise in Netflix's sci-fi horror, Dark, which has been deemed the German Stranger Things.
While the two shows are entirely different beasts, it's an easy comparison to make. Dark involves a cast of talented misfit teens, there is plenty of '80s nostalgia and a boy vanishes from thin air. But in place of a demented lab, there's a nuclear power plant adjacent to a winding tunnel of caves full of secrets.
And chances are, if you liked Stranger Things, you'll love Dark. But the similarities end there. Dark, frankly, is darker. There isn't a comedic relief. There aren't any punch lines. And the horror extends way further than the high school. Where Stranger Things has a field full of rotten pumpkins, Dark has a field full of dead animals.
Netflix's first German-language series, co-created by Baran bo Odar and Jantje Friese, opens in Winden in 2019 as Jonas (Louis Hofmann) deals with the suicide of his father and the sudden disappearance of his friend, Erik. When he and his friends go hunting in the woods for Erik's drug stash, Mikkel (Daan Lennard Liebrenz), the 12-year-old son of police officer Ulrich Nielsen, also goes missing.
This feels all too familiar for Ulrich (Oliver Masucci), whose younger brother went missing under the same circumstances exactly 33 years earlier. Soon, the rest of the town is stricken with the same case of deja vu.
Which brings us back to the series' overall theme — time travel.
The question isn't where is Mikkel, a dark, hooded figure notes while crossing out a newspaper headline. It's when.
As the search for Mikkel becomes more intense, so does the lengths four families will go through to keep their secrets and double lives from coming to light. Each of the 10 episodes reveals a new overlapping relationship, tangling an already intricate web of lies. This show is impossible to pause, with each episode ending on a cliffhanger or a twist.
The most complicated part of Dark, and half the fun of watching, is just trying to keep track of who is who. The story follows four generations of four families, with many of the characters played by three separate actors as the show journeys back to 1986 and 1953. "This is so-and-so's mom as a kid?" you'll undoubtedly be asking yourself. And while sorting out the ensemble cast can be maddening, the show is ingeniously edited with split screens to help you follow along.
If that still sounds too daunting, skip the subtitles and turn on the dubbed version. But be warned, the English voice actors can sound a little lackluster compared to the on-screen performances.
The series can feel like a gruesome Back to the Future mixed with the X-Files and Twin Peaks. The show is as puzzling as True Detective or Lost, but in Dark, science is the scary.
Dark is one of those shows that stays with you long after you've finished watching. It will make you question just how much free will you have over your life and what role fate plays in time and space.
And thankfully, our burning questions will be answered. The series, available now for streaming, has been greenlit for a second season.