TV: The Forest (Season 1)

The only interesting element of the French police procedural The Forest is that it keeps you guessing, for an episode or two, as to what genre it belongs to. Set in the small village of Montfaucon in the Ardennes, it involves the efforts of a tiny police force to investigate the disappearance of three high-school girls. Leading the effort is newly assigned chief Gaspard Decker (Samuel Labarthe). Among those assisting him is local officer Virginie Musso (Suzanne Clément), whose judgement is often clouded by the fact that one of the missing girls is her daughter. Nonetheless, these two lead the effort to track down the girls, frequently aided by the local French teacher Eve Mendel (Alexia Barlier), whose mysterious past increasingly appears connected to the escalating investigation.

The Forest delivers first-rate, chilling atmosphere, especially early on when its mystery still holds some power. The set-up is compelling, suggesting a dark series designed to explore the evils underlying small-town life, following in the footsteps of shows like Twin Peaks, Dark, or The Kettering Incident. Unfortunately, as it progresses, the bland procedural plot mechanics demystify the scenario. Occasional glimmers of the fantastical, mostly connected to Eve’s storyline, turn out to be little more than an incongruous literary pretension. As the picture comes into focus, the series’ aspiration appears to be little more than being a dramatic tearjerker. The production is polished and professional, at least, and the acting is fine; Clément in particular delivers a moving performance. Alas, Decker’s decision to keep Virginie on the case is extremely unconvincing, an unsolved mystery that nearly overshadows the broader one the show methodically reveals to be fairly mundane. It’s perfectly watchable, but ultimately doesn’t fulfill its early promise.

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