MARIANNE, a French horror web TV series now airing on Netflix, is one of the best horror stories I’ve ever seen on a screen, pushing every element of visual storytelling and every advantage of the medium to the max to deliver a superb horror experience that never feels cheap or unearned.
The story introduces us to Emma, a brusque and selfish literary star promoting the final book in her Lizzi Larck series about a girl entangled with an ancient witch. A childhood friend visits her and tells her that her mother is possessed by the very witch she’s been writing about. This leads Emma to return to Elden, her hometown, and a duel with a very real Marianne. Did her writing produce Marianne, or did Marianne influence Emma to write about her?
Along the way, we meet her long-suffering assistant, childhood friends, and estranged parents, along with a quirky police inspector and an irascible priest. Through Emma’s interactions with these people, we learn the source of her past trauma and pain that led to her becoming who and what she is. She gains support from them in her fight with the witch, though they’re weakly matched for what they’re up against, as is she for the most part.
While some lighter moments and mild touches of humor are seeded into the fast-paced narrative, the horror rarely flags, and it’s almost always effective. Not a single punch is pulled. Very clever camera work, effects, and spooky situations provide genuine scares without cheap jump scares and other tricks. The acting, particularly among those influenced by Marianne, is terrific. An enormous care and not a little artistry went into every scene to create just the right effect here, the right transition there, the right pacing, atmosphere, and level of tension.
Overall, I liked it far better than most American horror shows. While the ending suggests a second season is in the offing, I don’t think the show needs it. It’s excellent just as it is, and I ended the first season completely satisfied with the story.