Time-warp­ing twists, ’80s nostal­gia, teens in trou­ble... Is Net­flix’s Ger­man­lan­guage drama Dark the new Stranger Things? Josh Win­ning meets the show’s cre­ators

SFX - - Contents -

Meet the cre­ators of the new Net­flix show peo­ple are call­ing the Ger­man Stranger Things. Do they have Eg­gos in Ger­many?

IT’S July 2017 AND SFX HAS JUST BUMPED INTO DAREDEVIL AT a posh ho­tel. A mo­ment later, Iron Fist comes bar­relling down the cor­ri­dor. This isn’t Hell’s Kitchen, though. We’re at Lon­don’s Corinthia Ho­tel for a Net­flix love-in, where the cast of The De­fend­ers is do­ing press while rub­bing shoul­ders with the hot new kids on the block. Those new kids are Baran bo Odar and Jan­tje Friese, and they’re about to take the stream­ing ser­vice by storm with their am­bi­tious new se­ries, Dark. While matt mur­dock and Danny rand head off to chat about their Tv team-up, SFX is led into a cosy suite to meet Odar and Friese, the real-life mar­ried cou­ple mak­ing his­tory as the cre­ators of Net­flix’s first ever Ger­man-lan­guage se­ries. Dis­arm­ingly mod­est and friendly, they sip tea by a ta­ble of bis­cuits. Odar’s re­cov­er­ing from a stag do. They aren’t, you re­alise, peo­ple you’d as­so­ci­ate with some­thing as brood­ing as Dark.

“We’re both from small towns,” re­veals Odar, rock­ing a Spiel­berg beard and base­ball cap. “Usu­ally in Ger­many, small towns are the nice places where ev­ery­one knows each other, but we al­ways felt that there’s... When I was a kid, our neigh­bour was a creepy guy and I re­mem­ber my mum telling me all these creepy sto­ries about him. But my ques­tion was, like, was he ac­tu­ally bad or was my mum bad, telling these sto­ries? I felt like, ‘Oh, be­hind those doors, there are dark se­crets.’”

Se­crets are at the heart of Dark. The 10-episode se­ries, writ­ten by Friese and di­rected by Odar, takes place in the tiny fic­tional town of Win­den. It’s Novem­ber 2019 and 16-year-old Jonas (Louis Hof­mann) is still reel­ing from his fa­ther’s sui­cide five months ear­lier. As he starts a new school year sur­rounded by whis­pers, there’s some­thing even more trou­bling stok­ing the gos­sip em­bers – an­other teen has been miss­ing for two weeks.

And that’s just the be­gin­ning. “The show cen­tres around four fam­i­lies,” ex­plains Friese. “So it’s not only one fam­ily saga, it’s four sagas in­ter­twined. It’s about the teenagers, the par­ents and the grand­par­ents. A boy goes miss­ing from one of the fam­i­lies in a very mys­te­ri­ous way and while the crime plot kicks off in the first episode, you start to see that all

those char­ac­ters in the four fam­i­lies have some kind of dark shad­ows in the cel­lar.”

Adds Odar: “It’s based on a story we wanted to cre­ate for quite a time now, but it was ac­tu­ally more of a crime show in the be­gin­ning. When we read it again, we felt like some­thing was miss­ing, and as we did re­search on se­rial killers, we felt bored by the story. So we added an­other spice to it, which is that su­per­nat­u­ral twist, and all of a sud­den it was in­ter­est­ing for us and Net­flix loved it, so they let us do it.”

Quite how the su­per­nat­u­ral rears its head re­mains the show’s big­gest mys­tery. SFX has seen the first two (grip­ping) episodes, and the para­nor­mal un­der­cur­rents only be­gin to make waves to­ward the end of episode two. While there are echoes of Stephen King, par­tic­u­larly in the small-town set­ting and the sprawl­ing, in­ter­con­nected cast, Dark doesn’t cel­e­brate nostal­gia in quite the same way as its net­work sib­ling Stranger Things.

“I would say we have more the David Lynch, David Fincher [vibe], if you want to re­fer to a film­maker,” says Odar. “The Am­blin, nostal­gia thing, [where] ev­ery­thing was fine and nice back then, and sweet... we’re dif­fer­ent.” Friese jumps in: “We’re the dark euro­pean brother.” In­ter­rupts Odar: “mother!” Friese chuck­les and adds: “The sec­ond cousin.” The theme’s catch­ing as, tri­umphantly, Odar de­cides: “We’re the sick un­cle who vis­its once a year.”

heart of dark­ness

It’s clear why these two de­cided to make their per­sonal re­la­tion­ship pro­fes­sional. They fin­ish each oth­ers’ sen­tences through­out our chat and are equally pas­sion­ate about their work. They met at film school, have a daugh­ter to­gether, live in Ber­lin, and can’t agree over Dirty Danc­ing (she hates it, he loves it, though this may be a joke at Odar’s ex­pense). “We’re in­ter­ested in the same themes,” says Friese. “The dark­ness within us, and why do peo­ple be­come what they are? Why do they choose to turn into the dark pas­sage? That gives us quite a good base to work to­gether. Usu­ally we agree on most things.”

If Dark isn’t quite the new Stranger Things, it’s cer­tainly got an X-Files, Twin Peaks aura around it, not least in the way it tack­les those mys­te­ri­ous su­per­nat­u­ral in­gre­di­ents. “We are more based on sci­ence, to be hon­est, than in Stranger Things, where it’s mon­sters,” says Odar. “Our su­per­nat­u­ral thing is more sci­en­tific and based on the Al­bert ein­stein the­ory that time’s not lin­ear but a cir­cle.”

In­deed, the se­ries be­gins with an ein­stein quote – “The dis­tinc­tion be­tween past, present and fu­ture is only a stub­bornly pre­sented il­lu­sion” – and Dark’s de­mented nar­ra­tive loops through three dif­fer­ent time pe­ri­ods: 2019, 1986 and 1953. Time it­self is both a mys­tery and a clue. Be­fore Jonas’s fa­ther com­mits sui­cide,

he writes a note and la­bels it: “DO NOT OpeN Be­FOre NOvem­Ber 4, 10:13pm.”

else­where, the kids talk about Hansel & Gre­tel. The grown-ups worry about the clo­sure of the lo­cal power plant. ev­ery­body’s un­nerved by the dis­ap­pear­ances. Jonas’s friend says that her aunt once found a dead, five-legged squir­rel near the nu­clear plant. Later, a body is found wear­ing ’80s cloth­ing, by a walk­man that plays a creepy Ger­man pop song about the “time stream”. One char­ac­ter is read­ing A Jour­ney Through Time by HG Tannhaus.

“There are sins and se­crets and they all kind of come up to the sur­face,” ex­plains Friese of this strange brew, “and those se­crets don’t only have to do with the time now, but also the ’80s and ’50s. We look at those char­ac­ters through three dif­fer­ent time pe­ri­ods and it works like a puz­zle. With ev­ery episode there are new pieces re­vealed; the fates of all the char­ac­ters are con­nected through a phe­nom­ena that bends time and space. That’s how far I can go at the mo­ment!”

Still with us? yeah, things are def­i­nitely weird in Dark, and the show’s a marvel of (yes) Ger­man en­gi­neer­ing. Be­tween them, Friese and Odar have crafted a clock­work-pre­ci­sion mys­tery that’s as com­plex as it is cap­ti­vat­ing. “In the end we had 72 char­ac­ters, not in­clud­ing ex­tras,” re­veals Odar of their am­bi­tious pitch to Net­flix. “They had a lot of ques­tions of course. Then we had to cre­ate a bi­ble; you don’t just run and do the show. We went away know­ing Net­flix liked the idea and the char­ac­ters, and they read the bi­ble and said, ‘This is all great, but what if this is even big­ger at the end?’”

Into the woods

Clearly, am­bi­tion isn’t in short sup­ply. The se­ries shot over 150 days in and around Ber­lin, an un­der­tak­ing that ini­tially daunted Friese and Odar, who had pre­vi­ously worked to­gether on films Who Am I and 2010 crime thriller The Si­lence. Tv, nat­u­rally, is a very dif­fer­ent beast. “Beast is the right word!” laughs Friese. “No, ob­vi­ously in terms of de­vel­op­ing it [it’s very dif­fer­ent], be­cause we have to cre­ate 10 hours of con­tent and Tv shows work so dif­fer­ently from fea­ture films in the way you treat the char­ac­ters and work the arc.”

Adds Odar: “yeah, it was ex­haust­ing, but in a good way. I re­ally love shoot­ing. I love the set, I love talk­ing to the crew and di­rect­ing. It’s like a play­ground telling ev­ery­one from right to left or what­ever. The only thing you don’t like is the cold win­ter. We were out­side and we were lit­er­ally freez­ing our asses off. That’s the worst thing about it. There was a mo­ment where I felt, ‘I can’t do this any more, I can’t get up.’ But it’s a priv­i­lege. We’re both from film school so it’s our dream to make movies. We al­ways ap­pre­ci­ate get­ting to do it.”

So the show’s called Dark, but how dark are we talk­ing here? “I think pretty dark!” laughs Odar. “We like dark stuff but we don’t think it’s dark.” Adds Friese: “I think it’s prob­a­bly a ques­tion of per­spec­tive, what one con­sid­ers to be dark. prob­a­bly for us it’s not that dark.”

Odar gets in the last word again. “Just watch­ing the episodes, we re­alised we’re also re­ally emo­tional,” he says. “you see the grand­fa­ther as a fa­ther in the ’80s and as a kid in the ’50s, his per­spec­tive changes and his wishes. The show’s not as cold as just an­other sci-fi movie; it’s all about char­ac­ters at the end. So we felt like it’s a very, dark fam­ily saga with this emo­tional sci-fi twist.”

Dark be­gins on Net­flix on 1 De­cem­ber.

There are sins and se­crets and they all come to the sur­face

Teenage Jonas is haunted by the death of his fa­ther.

Oliver Ma­succi, Jördis Triebel and Louis Hof­mann play Dark’s cen­tral fam­ily.

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