Notes from binge-watching Belgian series Into The Night and Shirish Kunder's Mrs Serial Killer back-to-back
On one of these binge sessions, I ended up watching two completely different thrillers back-to-back, and like every binge that has come before it, it left me wanting more and no more, all at once
There’s nothing as useless as a long binge-watch; then again, is there something nearly as perversely gratifying? Admit it, our collective viewing standards have taken a nosedive through the lockdown. For, as socially distanced days roll into nights, how else are we supposed to make it out the other side with our minds intact?
On one of these binge sessions, I ended up watching two completely different thrillers back-to-back, and like every binge that has come before it, it left me wanting more and no more, all at once.
Netflix’s first Belgian original series, Into The Night, has a breathless six-episode first season with a terrifying apocalyptic conceit at its core — a flight is hijacked at Brussels airport one night and begins flying west trying to outrun the sun, because it turns out the next sunrise is going to kill life on the planet.
Now, Into the Night is a show that raises more questions than it answers, and any nuance contained within its audacious premise is hidden by layers upon layers of character backstories, subplots, and simply the next impossible-seeming hurdle the passengers on the plane encounter; and believe me, there are many.
Game of Thrones has forever altered the way we perceive lapses in TV time logic, so one should easily be able to glide past any questions about how much time the characters are actually spending between stops, as they inevitably begin circling the globe to evade the sun. (The lesson you learn is that if you’re going to make something silly, make it seem smart.)
The show has no one clear protagonist, but a bunch of characters who are developed enough to pique your interest. Prime among them is young Sylvie played by Pauline Etienne, who becomes an unlikely leader amidst the chaos. A killer sun is surely a metaphor for something, you feel, as you coast along with Sylvie and the other passengers, watching them deal with stuff that we couldn’t fathom in real life. (Apart from some things that we can, such as racism.)
And that’s when you really begin to get drawn in, because metaphor or not, there’s something about disparate characters confined to tight spaces coming together to outrun a potentially world-ending invisible enemy, that strikes a chord in these times.
So, if you’re watching it, it’s best to not go looking for holes in the plot, because what you’re up against is a fishing net that’s designed primarily to hook you. Even if you’re fully aware of its intent, you’ll want to save as many as you can of the 30 seconds between episodes. Into The Night is a hard show to put down, its immense binge-ability and its tight runtime being the prime reasons you forgive the point at which the last episode leaves you.
In fact, the cliffhanger end to the show is reason enough to pick up something else to watch immediately after. And thus, I began Jaan-E-Mann director Shirish Kunder’s Mrs Serial Killer, which is also streaming on Netflix.
Now, even accounting for the fact that binging a truly thrilling Belgian thriller series for hours would scramble one’s brains a bit, Kunder’s latest film is a bizarre one. The title, trailer, and indeed, every fiber of its being (or frame of its runtime) suggest exactly what’s going to happen next, which ironically is what makes the film reel you in for at least a while. (Surely there’s something unpredictable coming up?)
All of Shirish Kunder’s movies have been intriguing if not particularly impressive, yet there’s something about his style that makes one want to pick at his brain for a bit. There’s always a hint of what one can best describe as magic realism in his cinema, though describing it that way makes it seem cooler than it invariably amounts to. It’s like he’s trying too hard to create something unique, something that just doesn’t seem to have a big enough audience ready for it.
In this instance, his story is about a renowned gynaecologist (Manoj Bajpayee) who is arrested for the serial killings of unmarried pregnant woman in a hill town. His wife, played by Jacqueline Fernandez, takes it upon herself to prove his innocence, by committing a copycat murder while he’s incarcerated.
It feels like there’s much in this premise that could have been explored in an intricate, thrilling manner. From the basic question about the identity of the killer to finer nuances such as just what goes into committing your first murder, Mrs Serial Killer is essentially a series of lost opportunities. There’s an attempt at dark humour which alleviates things a bit, but even when you’re hooked to proceedings, there’s always that underlying sense of foreboding – ‘there’s no way any of this is going to make sense in the end’. And indeed, the lack of true thrills is the biggest undoing of the film.
Instead, it’s Kunder’s visual style that takes much of the attention, leaving poor Jacqueline to do much of the heavy lifting in the drama department. Truth be told, Jacqueline is no actor, particularly when there are words involved. She uses her presence the best she can, but by the end of it, the initially intriguing film turns into an unsalvageable wreck. If there’s a silver lining to this disaster for her, it’s that she has already featured in Drive. (She’s obviously now in danger of turning into the antichrist version of Radhika Apte for Netflix.)
Then, there’s Manoj Bajpayee. You can never tell when the thespian is out of form, because he’s played plenty of oddball characters before, and he usually gives every character his all. Yet, this one will rank closer to the bottom than to the middle of his stellar filmography, because as strange as Kunder has tried to make it, his character is actually frustratingly banal for a thriller, with no apparent signs of self-awareness to make him more palatable.
In the end, Mrs Serial Killer becomes the kind of film that plays an important role in the binge experience – it finally gets you to take a break.
Until next time.
Mrs Serial Killer and Into The Night released on Netflix on 1 May.
(Images from Twitter)
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