“Black Spot” (Zone Blanche) (2018)
Created & written by: Mathieu Missoffe
Directed by: Thierry Poiraud and Julien Despaux
Featuring: Suliane Brahim, Hubert Delattre,and Laurent Capelluto
Franck Siriani: “Your murder rate is six times the national average!”
Some television shows wear their influences out in the open begging to be compared and judged on the basis of someone else’s work but are original enough to then discount them, becoming something not only original but vital so that each episode is stunning in its construction as well as heading towards a payoff that might, or might not come by series end. On paper as well as what brief synopsis is available to be had this (relatively) new French series was either going to be derivative or something special which would not only contain surprises, but hint at what the nature of man could either stoop to, or rise from. There are comparisons to other series including but not limited to “Twin Peaks” (1990-present), “The X-Files” (1993-present), “Lost” (2004-2010), any number of police procedurals as well as the great French horror/thriller/drama/period piece “The brotherhood of the wolf” (2001), which all seem to have influenced creator Mathieu Missoffe in one way or another, but he has been able to conflate these influences by creating a new story as well as very real characters who all seem honest in their motivations. Whilst there are hidden plot points within the narrative the characters that populate the story all seem to have been created from a real place, but of course are exposed to some extraordinary events – that is exactly what make the series so watchable, to see how these people cope with the almost unreal.
One of the more refreshing aspects of this series is the way in which the narrative has been constructed around eight very individual episodes that all make up the arc of the first series which do reach a conclusion but luckily leave the story open to continue to a second series which has already been filmed. The series starts off positioning itself as a possible horror story including very recognisable tropes that may lead the audience into thinking that there is a supernatural aspect to the series, especially with some of the events that occur, as well as a hint as to what/who the main antagonist is, this thing that appears at the outskirts of almost each episode, just out of reach. The show never really gives away the ending even though viewers may think they know where the show is headed, sure there are the normal red herrings that pop up from time to time but adept viewers will know that there is going to be something else going on, remaining unsaid until the last half hour of the first series, it is done with care and great skill so as to not seem unjust, in fact great care has been given to the end to make sure that it does make sense.
The actual story of “Black Spot” (Zone Blanche) (2018) revolves around Major Laurène Weiss who is the sheriff of her hometown of Villefranche, a small, isolated, fictional town amidst a 50,000-acre forest in the mountains. When the body of a dead woman is found hanged from a strange tree, Prosecutor Franck Siriani arrives to learn why the town’s murder rate is now six times the national average and its population continues to dwindle, as well as investigate Laurène’s past.
One of the main elements of “Black Spot” (Zone Blanche) that is the most obvious cannot be overlooked, the geographic setting of the town near a great forest that acts as a main character. It is of course part of the problem that the townspeople have within their lives as well as a metaphor for the future as well as the past which seems to haunt everyone in one way or another. In every episode the forest is present looming over the town as well as peoples lives, the main character keeps having flashbacks, exploring the forest looking for answers that she may never find or that elude her because of all the issue she faces at home, as well as at work. In fact the very first scenes involve the forest with the second lead who seemingly views the forest then collapses into some sort of heap dragging himself back to the car like a scene straight from the “The X-Files”, he appears to be struck down by some unknown, unseen force, possessing him, of course the truth revealed later is all to simple, real and grounded, which acts as an introduction to the show in a real original way. The forest is a place where things go to die or to hide from prying eyes which is another reason it is important, it acts as a kind of blanket, insulating lives as well as life from each other, it is a mystery to be unravelled which again is why we see the main character continually searching within, but of course it then insulates her from her daughter as well as her colleagues, it influences her much like it does the entire town.
As with many genre shows sometimes it is easier to believe that there are actual monsters committing the atrocities we see, rather than just regular human beings who are either sick or malicious which is something this show is not afraid of trying to explore, something it has in common with “The brotherhood of the wolf” another fantastic French production dealing with similar themes. I am not going to give away the conclusion of the show or any plot points but the way in which the series presents events that could be supernatural in any way then illustrates how they are in fact based in reality is done expertly, it also gives a clue to the end of the show as well as how it will justify itself so that it does not feel cheap as well as unearned which it does not.
The leads of the show are Suliane Brahim and Hubert Delattre as the Major of police and the new DA respectively; the creators have taken the wise decision to make Delattre’s character the stand in for the audience so that we find out about the town as well its folk, its high murder rate as well as the fact that it exists in a dark spot the same time he does which is not only something that is required but means we remember all the details as they are explained in a very logical way. As the lead of the show Brahim is magnificent as a women in charge of almost everything, a daughter, a staff of cops as well as hinting a murder and her own past, it is a masterful job of having to play something different in almost every scene she appears in which is a tall order for any actor, but she carries it off with aplomb. The show is rounded out with actors who similarly have to juggle very different characteristics sometimes within the same scene but to a lesser degree than the main characters but it is still something to behold.
This is an extremely compelling show that deserves to be watched it is very well produced with the entire narrative being well thought out and plotted which for a short run series is vital, which is made clear when the series comes to its eventual conclusion. There is so much more that could be said but that would head this review into spiller territory and the least said about the direction of the series as well as the objectives of characters and their arcs the better as this adds to the overall effect of the narrative and the supernatural or not elements that have been introduced as well as paying off the end which I found satisfying even though I was worried that it would not. I recommend thie show highly to anyone that likes taught thrillers, a touch of the supernatural as well as a look in on life that is foreign to them, this is a show that I found enjoyable knowing there would be another season, but that this was a story that had a definite ending at the end of the first series – enjoy.
- “When You Arrive in Town”:The corpse of a young woman is found hanging in the forest. Major Laurène Weiss tries to solve this mystery, while welcoming the eccentric new prosecutor, Franck Siriani, to Villefranche. The townspeople are already tense from the announced closure of the local sawmill and the disappearance of the mayor’s daughter.
- “What Do Wolves Dream About?”: Laurène comes across a wolf protecting a hidden newborn. She tries to find the child’s parents, while being followed by the mysterious animal. As events quickly escalate, her past memories return.
- “In the Abyss”:A traumatised amateur speleologistresurfaces from a labyrinth of caves, claiming to have been separated from a companion while underground. Laurène tries to distinguish truth from lies in his testimony before considering a perilous descent. Meanwhile, a mysterious graffito appearing around Villefranche leads Cora to suspect a group of shadowy activists has kidnapped the mayor’s missing daughter.
- “We’ll Go to the Woods No More”:A phone is found with videos showing a group of young people terrified by a macabre discovery in the forest. After finding one of their corpses, Laurène and her team investigate to determine what happened during their night out. Meanwhile, she reflects on her complicated relationship with Bertrand, the town’s mayor.
- “The End of the Road”:A gang of thieves hit Sabine’s bar. With the town on lockdown, Laurène must locate them to learn their purpose in Villefranche. Meanwhile, Cora and the children at Arduinna follow mysterious trucks roaming the forest at night.
- “Dark Hero”:A woman commits suicide the same day that her husband is awarded a medal of honor. Laurène suspects the man is not the hero that everyone thinks he is. She tries to discover his dark secrets, but the mayor, his childhood friend, protects him.
- “The Secret Behind the Window”:The father of a mentally handicapped teenager is found dead. The townspeople are concerned about the boy and want to know what happened. Laurène begins a difficult murder investigation, but is troubled, because Siriani has put Bertrand in custody. Laurène must uncover the truth.
- “The End Is Only the Beginning”:The investigation into the disappearance of the mayor’s daughter rebounds with the strangely staged discovery of her body. While Bertrand seeks revenge, Laurène finally gets closer to the hidden enemy that she has been tracking for years.
“Black Spot” (Zone Blanche) is streaming on Amazon right now.