Netflix horror series “Marianne”
Season 1: Eight episodes
Released: Sept. 13, 2019
Audio: French with English subtitles.
The eyes are definitely the windows into the soul in this bit of French nastiness.
And once you get a good look at them, part of you will wish you had turned away. Perhaps a bigger part of you than you’re willing to admit. But you’ll keep coming back for more.
About 15 minutes into the first episode, you’ll see what I mean.
Our heroine, Emma Larsimon, a successful horror novelist, has returned home after a night out drinking with her publicist’s assistant to find a note on the refrigerator from her angry boyfriend, Pierre.
She realizes she’s stood him up. Again.
Emma skulks into bed and quickly falls asleep, Pierre’s back defiantly turned toward her side of the bed. The light from the neon pharmacist’s sign outside their Paris apartment drapes the room in an eerie green shroud as she drifts off into a nightmare.
Emma awakens with a start after a dreamworld run-in with a terrifying, cackling witch, the titular “Marianne.” She wipes the sweat from her brow and looks around the room furtively. Pierre, who remains facing away from her, suddenly asks if she’s had another nightmare. Yes, she says, she hasn’t had one like this in a long time. Then she asks him to roll over.
“Want me to turn around?”
Yes, she says.
“Are you sure?” he asks.
The timbre of his voice seems off as we focus on the back of his head framed by the light leaking through the window.
Emma’s eyes signal fear. She begins to turn back toward her side of the bed, rotating her face away from him and pulling the covers up to her chin, looking as though, if she could go back to sleep, she’d prefer dealing with the nightmares from which she’d just escaped.
Pierre begins a long, slow, agonizing roll over to face her, his eyes reflecting the light from the pharmacy sign and a twisted, amplified smile — as if it were on steroids — pulling at the corners of his mouth like a long-ago healed scar set in the center of his face.
It is at this point the viewer realizes they’ve never seen anything quite like “Marianne.”
In this world, created by Samuel Bodin, the imaginary and the real intertwine like a ball of mating snakes. It may be more trouble than it’s worth to try and separate them. And often, the most danger seems to linger in the moments after awaking from a nightmare, precisely when we’re supposed to feel safest.
It is that which sets “Marianne” apart from the typical fare of jump scares and torture porn that passes for horror these days. The show gets into the psychology of fright and squeezes us in the places we are most fragile.
Close attention to detail rewards the viewer. And in this case, the fact that “Marianne” is in French only helps the situation. This is not background viewing, like watching Friends while you do your laundry. It requires careful consideration and attention.
Since you must be looking at the screen to understand what’s being said, there’s less chance of missing the shadows creeping across rooms in unnatural ways, or the mysterious subliminal flashes that foreshadow terrors lurking ahead along the show’s winding path.
As a reward for your concentration, “Marianne” will scare the Bejeepers out of you. Seriously. After finishing the second episode, I looked over my shoulder three times as I climbed the stairs to my bedroom. I’m not exactly sure what I was looking for, but I was about 35 percent certain I’d see it. I’m in my 40s, folks.
Over the course of eight episodes, the viewer learns of the details behind Emma Larsimon’s horror writing career. She details the exploits of a witch who can enter into people’s bodies and steal their souls. Her heroine, Lizzie Larck, is on a quest to destroy the witch.
Emma’s latest book, however, is an attempt to extricate herself from the series that made her famous so she can focus on more “adult” writing.
But when confronted by an old friend, Emma learns that her creation may be real, is angry she’s decided to stop writing about her and is running amock in her hometown.
Emma returns to confront Marianne, as well as the transgressions of her past, against both family and her best friends, who refer to themselves as the Shipwreck Crew.
In addition to the pervading sense of dread, the series creators have managed to inject “Marianne” with a sense of humor that helps to bolster the proceedings just when things seem at their bleakest.
The Shipwreck Crew provides us with moments of levity, while also serving to let us see Emma through a different set of eyes. Her high school friends remember and love Emma for who she was before her success and ensuing self-loathing and alcoholism.
It’s important to note that this series handles one horror trope with such finesse that its lasting impact on other shows and films seems assured.
“Why is she going back in there?” I often find myself asking when a horror heroine returns to a place everyone damn well knows is haunted, cursed, etc.
In “Marianne,” such decisions make perfect sense, and nothing seems outside the realm of possibility. This is a character with real mystery about her, and real motivations. You’ll find yourself rooting for her, even when you know she doesn’t necessarily deserve it.
“Marianne” is frightening, pure and simple, and joins “The Haunting of Hill House” as one of Netflix’s best original entries into the horror genre.