On Friday the 13th Netflix dropped a surprise new series, without any fanfare or hoo-hah, similarly to how The Haunting of Hill House became the surprise hit of last October, released with little promotion in the weeks prior. Friday the 13th couldn’t have been a better date to release Marianne out into the wild. At the time of writing, I have only watched the first episode, but boy, I was pleasantly surprised.
It takes a lot to frighten me. I go to the cinema to watch horrors alone, desperately hoping to be scared. Some may call me a sadist. I call it thrill-seeking, but whatever the case, I am usually left disappointed. In the case of this deliciously dark French horror series, Marianne actually delivered the goods. I found myself watching with one eye open at one point—it was then that I knew this was going to be just what the doctor ordered this Halloween season.
The pacing is good from the get-go. Famous (and very sassy) author Emma Larismon, played by Victoire Du Bois, is doing a book tour for her last novel of a series that focuses on her character Marianne, which is popular the world over. It soon becomes clear that Marianne is more than just a story, she’s been directing Emma’s nightmares since she was a child, and the only way to stop them is to put them down on paper. Not writing about her anymore is not an option for Emma as far as Marianne is concerned, and she is going to make sure that Emma tells her story.
At first, I thought that the character of Emma was going to ruin this for me. She’s cocky and full of ‘I don’t give a fuck about anyone’ attitude, which could have become tedious and pretentious very quickly. But as with most people who behave that way, it’s a cover. The fear and pain in Victoire Du Bois eyes reveal the depth of this character and the great range of the actress.
After Emma receives a disturbing and tragic message from Marianne in the form of a very creepy older woman—a former school friend, Caroline’s mother—she heads back to Elden, her childhood home, bringing her reluctant (and very cute) Intern PR Agent, Camille (Lucie Boujenah) with her.
Creepy, disturbing and packed full of gore, Marianne wastes no time getting right to the horror. From the opening scene, this series clearly pulls out all the stops to deliver an exhilarating and unpredictable thrill ride. There’s some nicely worked jump scares here too and of course, all the usual tropes you’d expect from this genre show up, but they’re introduced in such a way that you really won’t mind, given how effective the atmosphere is at bringing you into this grim world.
Horrors often suffer from inconsistent pacing and getting that balance right is incredibly tricky. Too quick and you lose the subtle atmosphere and world-building while a series that’s too slow begins to feel stagnant and mundane. Thankfully Marianne manages to traverse this tightrope well and never stumbles, peppered in with numerous jump scares and distressing scenes to keep things feeling dark and sinister at every turn, but not too many that you become complacent to it.
While some scenes are outright scary, other’s are just disconcerting. It’s those that creeped me out the most. Reminiscent of the scene in The Shining, with the man dressed in a bear suit with the man in the tux in a hotel room, you don’t really know why it’s scary, but it is. Distorted and contorted faces, naked parents caught in a sexual tryst, awkward dinner table conversations, and grotesque gifts from the spirit of the evil witch, all build a truly brooding and uncomfortable atmosphere. CGI is used, but sparingly and when it’s done, it’s done well. Most of the horror comes from how realistic it looks.
The old lady embodying Marianne (played by Mireille Herbstmeyer) is incredibly unnerving too, and I cannot wait to explore more of her past and find out what her true intentions are. I wonder too what happened back in Emma’s hometown all those years ago. Emma is full of secrets, and in that sense, this first episode reminded me of Sharp Objects––the same feeling of mystery and intrigue threaded through the narrative. It’s just my cup of tea.
Aesthetically, Marianne has some really nicely implemented edits and cuts that help give the story a distinct visual flavour. I understand that each episode begins with a famous quote from an author, and throughout the series, a changing scene is accompanied by pages turning while flashbacks are handled by pages turning backward. It’s subtle, no more than a second at most, but it’s unique enough to tie into the entire premise of the show without feeling like a cheap gimmick. It makes you question what you’ve seen and wonder if you are becoming part of Emma’s story.
My only gripe was the excessive use of ‘scary music’. It serves its purpose, and maybe it was because I was watching with headphones, but I felt it was just too much. Yes, the sweeping scenes across landscapes absolutely deserve a crescendo of strings, but when someone is creeping through a hallway in pitch black, I don’t need to hear voices singing ‘ooh-aah’ in a ghostly fashion with full orchestral accompaniment. Silence is golden. Or at least subtlety is. However, when it really counted, and there was no sound at all, that’s when I hid behind one eyelid. So maybe it did precisely what they intended it to after all.
Marianne deserves to be this season’s Haunting Of Hill House—it absolutely reaches those illustrious heights—but whether it does depends on how well the audience takes to the French language. Whatever you do, do not watch the dubbed version. I watched five minutes at the default Netflix settings and good lord it totally ruined the feeling. For some reason, they’d added the American voiced narrative as if it was a high school drama like Riverdale or Mean Girls, making it feel totally over the top and pretentious. Like Dark, this needs to be watched in its native tongue. Reading subtitles is not a chore, c’mon now.
Marianne is a series of eight episodes at 45 mins long, and they are all available to stream on Netflix right now. Perfect for binge-watching, which is precisely what I plan to do as soon as I get home. Enjoy your nightmares!