The Chalet review: Netflix's French miniseries humanises the and-then-there-were-none scenario
A remote mountain village in France. A group of friends arrive for the wedding of one of their own. The moment they drive into the village, the bridge that serves as its sole connect to civilisation comes crashing down. Staying in a chalet owned by the father of the groom, they are now on their own with a handful of locals till help arrives. And then they start getting picked off one by one. Someone or something is after them in Valmoline, this village that is slowly beginning to reveal a dark past.
The Chalet (Le Chalet in the original French) is the latest foreign TV miniseries to find an audience in India via Netflix. As the aforementioned set-up suggests, it is a show steeped in the influences of the rich history of its genre. Spanning across six near hour length episodes, it features a huge cast of characters that has the needle of suspicion pointed at every single one of them. The audience is encouraged to play along in this guessing game and, to its credit, the show does manage to surprise you time and again. But the French imagination gives an empathetic spin to the genre by widening the emotional canvas and attempting to humanise the And-then-there-were-none scenario.
With a massive cast and two parallel timelines separated by 20 years running side by side, The Chalet demands rapt attention on the audience’s part. The show is paced well enough for us to seldom lose interest. However, the cast — grown up in the present day and children in the other timeline — renders things exceedingly complex, primarily because both stories feature events with substantial emotional engagement of their own. The show cuts between the two timelines throughout the narrative, often from the younger to the older version of the character to simplify things. But the sheer numbers of the characters at play makes it enormously difficult for the writers to develop them individually while keeping the narrative chugging along smoothly.
The Chalet could have benefitted from a smaller cast. One can well understand the writers’ intention of keeping the audience on their toes. For a show that wants to champion its emotional content as keenly as its central mystery, deeply engaging characters would have certainly gone a long way in elevating it beyond the bounds of the genre. But the strength of the performances makes up for this lag, keeping things moving reasonably well. The show takes its good time in changing gears. But once you are a few episodes in, you find yourself too deeply drawn in to let go, not unlike the central predicament of the characters.
The show doesn’t break any new ground in storytelling or ideas. But that is hardly a complaint. Something is rotten in the picturesque little village and everyone is at pains to figure out just what led someone to turn into a crazed hunter of people in an idyllic place like this. The slow lifting of the pall of grief that appears to engulf Valmoline and its citizens remains the priority for the show. There are little twists and turns aplenty throughout. You often find yourselves questioning your view of these characters, some of whom seem to transform from one scene to the next owing to the unfolding of events from two decades ago. Although the dénouement doesn’t come as a surprise, one feels that that is exactly what the writers were going for: a deeper engagement with the tragedy that birthed this dismal sequence of events and the sheer stupidity — so characteristic of humans — of the underlying cause.
Despite the size of its cast and the parallel timelines that can be confusing, The Chalet does give us a couple of strong characters. They aren’t memorable, but their dyanmics keep us glued to the screen. The other characters are not entirely original, often even dismally clichéd. But their interpersonal dynamics and the overarching dark theme of the show make for a good viewing experience. There is always something or the other going on among this lot that may or may not be related to the events that took place years ago. So our interest never wanes. By the time the final credits roll on the screen, we are left with a satisfactory viewing experience that could have been further enriched by the omission of a few unnecessary sub plots and characters.
The Chalet is currently streaming on Netflix. Watch the trailer here:
Updated Date: Apr 29, 2018 13:16:06 IST