Unseen is hews closely to the show it’s adapting and is littered with genre tropes, but it’s still a competent version of an overly familiar idea.
This review of the South African Netflix series Unseen Season 1 does not contain spoilers.
Unseen, a six-part South African Netflix crime thriller, is a direct adaptation of Fatma, a well-liked Turkish series also available on the Big N, but it’s derivative of an entire genre more than one particular show.
Still, that’s the way these things work. And if you’re looking for that specific kind of experience, you can do a lot worse.
Unseen Season 1 review and plot summary
It’s a simple idea: What happens when a humble cleaning lady accidentally kills a man who deserves it and then gets a bit of a taste for it? The key is how that premise inverts the usual moral dynamic. In most films and TV, the person who goes on a killing spree is the bad guy (or an action hero, but let’s not get hung up on details.) But the hero in Unseen somehow becomes easier to root for the more deserving men she kills.
Her name is Zenzi Mwala (Gale Mabalane). She’s a struggling cleaner who is behind on her rent and tends to have some unsavory associations with South Africa’s criminal underworld thanks to her husband, Max, who was due to be released from prison but has vanished into thin air.
While looking for Max, Zenzi falls deeper down a rabbit hole of criminality, committing accidental homicides and then some rather intentional ones as she tries to figure out the truth behind her husband’s incarceration and sudden disappearance.
You’ve seen a lot of this before. The unlikely killer is a longstanding trope. And this is a pretty direct adaptation. But the appeal of this version of the story is the setting, a present-day South African underworld that is littered with deplorable gangsters (almost all of them men) and helpless victims (many of them women.)
READ: Is Unseen on Netflix based on a true story?
There’s a lot of weight on the shoulders of Mabalane to deliver a depth of emotion in Zenzi, and she pulls it off with aplomb, anchoring the series even in its slower portions with a determined performance that runs the gamut from meek victim to empowered angel of death. She and the setting itself are the two primary reasons to watch.
Is Unseen good?
But it gets better as it goes along, too. That isn’t to say it’s necessarily bad in the early going, just sedate, especially in the middle episodes. Things definitely ramp up across the six 45-ish-minute chapters though, and you get some bang for your buck eventually. If you find yourself getting invested early, there’s a solid payoff waiting for you.
What did you think of Unseen Season 1? Comment below.
You can watch this series with a subscription to Netflix.