‘Anthracite’ Goes In Some Directions You Won’t Expect — And Some You Won’t Like

By Jonathon Wilson
Published: April 10, 2024 (Last updated: last month)
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Anthracite Review
Anthracite | Image via Netflix
3.5

Summary

Anthracite is ballsy storytelling that takes several really big swings in surprising directions, but it might be too much for some viewers.

There are a couple of things you should know about Anthracite. The first is that it’s weird, and gets weirder as it goes at such an alarming rate you’d think it had entered a competition. And the second is that it’s bleak. It goes to some places that you a) won’t expect it to and b) will wish it didn’t.

Believe it or not, these aren’t criticisms. But forewarned is forearmed.

Approached with the correctly calibrated expectations, Anthracite is an impressively compelling French Netflix thriller that has the rare distinction of being impossible to predict on almost any level. Formal flourishes in the early episodes are abandoned in favor of rancid plot turns that put an impressive cast through the physical and emotional wringer. It’s likely that by the end, you won’t know quite what you’ve watched. But you’ll know you’ve watched something, that’s for sure.

I’ll only give an outline of the initial premise since little of it will matter in the way you’d expect anyway. Essentially, though, (almost) everything revolves around a cult in the French Alps village of Levionna, with its Christ-like leader Caleb Johansson (Stefano Cassetti) being the only survivor of a mass suicide.

Anthracite Review

Anthracite | Image via Netflix

Three decades later, journalist Solal Heilman (Jean-Marc Barr), who investigated the case at the time, returns to Levionna and promptly disappears. His internet sleuth daughter Ida (Noémie Schmidt) follows him out there and meets Jaro (Hatik), an employee at the ski resort who is of particular interest to Solal for mysterious reasons.

Before long, Jaro is implicated in a murder that has eerily similarities to one committed by Caleb back in the day, and the teens fall foul of Giovanna (Camille Lou), the obstinate local cop recovering from a recent mental breakdown.

Let’s stop there. It’s pointless getting carried away, and I don’t want to spoil anything even obliquely. Suffice it to say, all this is the tip of the iceberg, but one of the show’s distinct pleasures is seeing where each demented twist takes us.

Anthracite Review

Anthracite | Image via Netflix

It’s worth pointing out that the slightly goofy tone characterizing the opening episodes doesn’t persist. Things get far too serious far too quickly for Ida’s social ineptitude and team of always-online detectives to define things. Instead, the ballsier narrative swerves take the focus ahead of any formal flourishes.

I don’t say this about many shows, but Anthracite will probably be too much for some. Not too too much, like too difficult to watch or too appalling to consider, but objectively too much, like too many developments and reveals and reversals to keep track of. It can feel a little indulgent in its most outlandish moments as if it’s putting shock value and gotchas ahead of a meaningful plot.

It also can’t decide what it wants to be about. The story features cults, web sleuths, and embittered small-town locals shaking angry fists at exploitative companies, but it isn’t about any of these things any more than it’s about one thing after another.

It treats genre this way too. There are elements of coming-of-age, teen romance, cop dramas, and supernatural thrillers, sometimes within the span of a scene or two.

But these are quibbles, admittedly. The overarching mystery has a compelling backbone, while the performances are dynamic and interesting. The Alpine scenery is striking, and if shock value is considered a positive, well… Anthracite has that in spades.

It’ll be interesting to see how this divides audiences in the coming weeks since it certainly will, but it’ll also be enjoyable to see viewers really getting a kick out of its bigger swings. Just take the recommendation as a cautious one with some pretty big caveats.

I also broke down the ending of Anthracite in detail and recapped Season 1 (Episodes 1-6) individually. If you’re interested, obviously.

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