Dark and distracting series to watch on Netflix
We need the darkness to enjoy the light, and Netflix provides. From Black Mirror to Mindhunter, here are the darkest shows to distract you during self-isolation
Across five series to date, Charlie Brooker and Annabel Jones have made for some of the most confrontational and eerie TV for years. Black Mirror, with its anthology format, diving into a new story with every episode, speaks to every anxiety of the 21st century with a particular slant towards technology. Scared someone will blackmail you through your webcam? Fascinated by how your video games could take over your life? Terrified by how mind-melting pop music can be? Whatever your grievance, there's an episode.
With an all-star rotating cast including Jon Hamm, Jodie Whittaker, Domhnall Gleeson, Alex Lawther, Letitia Wright and even Miley Cyrus, every new world has an uncanny ability to flip yours entirely upside down.
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The limited Netflix series from True Detective director Cary Fukunaga promised a kaleidoscopic look at the delirium of psychological trials, focusing on two participants: Annie and Owen, played by Emma Stone and Jonah Hill. But in practice, Maniac had plenty to say in a serious, thoughtful way about the crevasses of our mental health, the delusional and hopeful parts of the brain, and how those intersect with a reality that somehow always falls flat.
It's a fascinating and sobering watch, gripping in its high-octane drama (spot Justin Theroux playing his own version of a mad scientist) but also intelligent enough to never veer into ridicule.
Welding together horror, sci-fi, and 80s nostalgia, Stranger Things created wondrous ripples across dimensions when the series hit Netflix in 2016. Now, it’s reached overwhelming cult popularity – recapturing the geeky childhoods of many, while also plunging into scary and surprising territory which many have never seen before.
Set in the supposedly quiet town of Hawkins, Indiana, a secret science facility is conducting experiments on telekinetic children and exploring portals to a dark version of our world (the Upside-Down). Inevitably, its merciless beasts and hushed-up conspiracies spill into the town. Four loser kids are stuck in the middle of the terror, balancing monstrous demagorgons with their awkward school lives.
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Teenage life is an itchy, anxious mess, and nobody feels this deeper than 17-year-old loner Syd (Sophia Lillis). She tries her best to navigate high school, her newly developing sexuality, and her father’s shocking suicide. And like Eleven in Stranger Things, she’s also discovering her own telekinetic powers.
But this is more than a superhero origin story (God knows we’ve had enough of those). I Am Not Okay With This is a strange, dark, character-driven coming-of-age tale that happens to involve supernatural abilities. And the central relationship between Syd and the charmingly overconfident Stan (Wyat Oleff), who helps her through her overbearing anxiety, is as captivating as all the fantasy elements.
Horror cinema’s entering a new golden age, smothered in blood and psychological torment; a ghost ship captained by Jordan Peele (Get Out, Us), Ari Aster (Hereditary, Midsommar), Robert Eggers (The Lighthouse) and Andy Muschietti (IT). Why should TV be excluded from all the frightening fun?
Filmmaker Mike Flanagan (Doctor Sleep) proves that horror series can be just as innovative and heart-wrenching in its chills, with his Netflix adaptation of the Shirley Jackson ghost novel.
The series scrapes the two timelines of the Crain family, who moved into the haunted Hill House in 1992 and return 26 years later. The house is pregnant with plenty of horrifying apparitions, including a lady with a bent neck and a man who floats with a cane, lingering the old and dark corridors. When the family leave the first time, they thought they were done with the house. But the house isn’t done with them.
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We’re all enduring Groundhog Day emotions right now: that existential repetitiveness from lockdown and self-isolation. Happily, the Orange is the New Black star Natasha Lyonne provides a Netflix series that’s seriously reflective of that universal feeling – even if it’s a much darker variation on the concept.
On her 36th birthday party in New York, Nadia (Lyonne) is suddenly run over by a taxi and killed…but then she wakes up, back at the party. Now, every time she dies, which is quite a lot, she reappears in the same place. As Nadia investigates her deathly time-loop, she begins to plunge into herself.
David Fincher’s searing, forensic examination of the phenomenon of serial killers isn’t your average detective drama. Its slow-burn approach leaks into your soul like oil in water, as you sit across from America’s most twisted murderers – ranging from Ed Kemper to David Berkowitz to Charles Manson.
Set during the 70s, as the FBI expands its behavioural science department, Mindhunter is a fictionalised account of the first government study into serial killers. Special agents Holden Ford (Jonathan Groff) and Bill Tench (Holt McCallany) conduct field research in high-security prisons across the country, interviewing the darkest minds in history and assessing their psychological motivations with professor Wendy Carr (Anna Torv).
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