Series review: The Woods
- Even if it's not completely without merits, Bartek Konopka and Leszek Dawid’s Polish mystery fails to engage the audience
Usually, a TV reviewer is envied to a certain degree by his or her friends. After all, who wouldn't want access to a new season of a binge-worthy show, weeks before its release? We, TV reviewers, usually love our job, too, for the exact same reason, but sometimes we, too, envy regular viewers for their freedom to do what we cannot: hit that “stop” button and do something better with their time. And this is what we felt while watching Bartek Konopka and Leszek Dawid’s The Woods, the new Netflix miniseries based on the book of the same title by US writer Harlan Coben, now transposed to a Polish reality.
In the very first frame, we meet Pawel (Grzegorz Damięcki), the protagonist, with a gun pointed at his head. It is obviously the climax of the story, but we immediately go back in time, both to 2019, when Pawel is a successful state prosecutor, and to 1994, when he is a chaperone in a youth camp. It doesn't take long for us to realise that in 1994, Pawel's sister, Kamila, mysteriously disappeared the same night that two teenagers from the camp were killed deep in the surrounding woods. In 2019, the hero is still deeply affected by this loss, so it's understandable that he would start his own investigation when information surfaces about a fourth teenager who disappeared that night.
One of the show's strengths is the mix of trauma and expertise that puts Pawel at a good vantage point in the story. His obsession is promising at first, but unfortunately, The Woods soon gets muddied with too many hesitations, inconsistencies, misdirections and detours, and we would say that very few viewers will be able to resist the temptation to use the aforementioned freedom to push the “stop” button. We, alas, had to watch every minute of it. Every single one of the 306 minutes. Yes, we counted!
It’s a mystery why this adaptation needed a running time of more than five hours when so much of the footage is filled with the adult Pawel's casual brooding, lots of paper shuffling and screen staring, some hand wringing and drink sipping, a touch of frantic (but unfortunately useless) driving, and many other rather meaningless actions. Perhaps they were meant to create atmosphere and tension, but they only succeed in killing any desire to stick around and learn what happened in those woods. And when the characters stop carrying out their fairly uninteresting actions, they utter fairly uninteresting lines, such as “Can we talk?” or “We should do something about this”, and plenty of other platitudes. A tighter editing would have helped, too...
Nevertheless, The Woods is not completely without merit. In the first episode, we liked many of the 1994 scenes, which succeed in creating the idea of innocence, happiness, recklessness and the exuberance of first love. The young actors are all very convincing, especially Hubert Miłkowski, who expertly navigates the complexities of Pawel's shattered life following the disappearance of his sister. Unfortunately, the screenplay implies that the murder case was never solved, and one can only be intrigued as to why the creators chose to focus on so much of the action in that time. And when the answers come, it is already too late.
Perhaps Polish audiences will be more open to liking the show, as The Woods translates pretty much every trick in the thriller book to local realities. Also, the decent production value manages to effectively recreate 1990s Warsaw.
This ATM Grupa SA production is released worldwide on 12 June.
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