A high-quality Turkish production that adds a fresh spin on a well-worn genre.
This review of Netflix’s Hot Skull season 1 is spoiler-free.
Has it been long enough that media about global plagues doesn’t feel distasteful anymore? Mileage may vary, I suppose. But at the very least, the illness at the heart of Hot Skull, which has driven the citizens of Istanbul into dystopian quarantine zones, isn’t reminiscent enough of Covid-19 to feel in bad taste. Instead, this Turkish Netflix series based on the novel by Afsin Kum feels like an interesting new version of a well-worn idea.
Unlike most epidemic media, Hot Skull is set a while after the outbreak, making it feel somewhat reminiscent of The Last of Us in the strict zoning, authoritarian control, and no-nonsense crackdown on any potential infected. It makes a nice change from the usual fare, which is almost always about the panic of the early days as humanity falls apart at the seams. Hot Skull doesn’t paint an especially favorable portrait of how humanity might behave after that initial panic, but that’s the genre for you.
Also neat is the illness itself – a kind of madness spread through language that has been dubbed “jabbering”, so everyone wears noise-canceling headphones. It takes that annoying feeling of someone – usually a drunk person, honestly – droning on and on and makes it a genuine threat to one’s safety and sanity.
Our protagonist here is Murat Siyavus (Osman Sonant), a linguist who is mostly immune to the illness. It does, admittedly, make his head heat up with an intense fever – hence the show’s title – but that’s as far as things go for him, making him a particular target of the Anti-Epidemic Institution and its agent, Anton.
What follows an introductory episode is essentially a cat-and-mouse thriller, with Murat having to leave the safe zone while being pursued by a ruthless organization that’ll stop at nothing to capture him. There are some interesting details relating to the jabbering that help to contour this rather passe format and a touch of artsy ambiguity that gives Hot Skull a distinct vibe. How much of this comes from the novel and how much is the responsibility of creator, writer, and director Mert Baykal would be better answered by those familiar with both works.
Turkish film and TV has quietly been excelling on Netflix, and Hot Skull only further vouches for the nation’s output with its high-quality production, acting, and direction. The only downside is a slightly elongated runtime, with eight episodes all around – and some over – an hour leading to some saggy spots where the pacing could have been tightened just a notch. That aside, though, this is a solid, intriguing, and extremely competent take on a well-worn genre.
You can stream Hot Skull season 1 exclusively on Netflix.
1 thought on “Hot Skull season 1 review – a quality, fresh take on the dystopian thriller”
His mum looks the same age as him ! I’m confused