TV: Cracow Monsters (Season 1)

I wouldn’t say I whole-heartedly enjoyed Netflix’s Cracow Monsters, a supernatural horror series from Poland, but it’s one of those visually striking and novel European shows that manages to slather enough interesting, fantastical paint on its canvas to command moderate, hopeful interest. Alex Walas (Barbara Liberek) is an ambitious student at a Cracow medical university who also happens to have a mysterious past involving near-death experiences—and, perhaps, a literal guardian angel. After a chance encounter with Lucjan “Lucky” Szczesny (Stanisław Linowski), Alex finds her way onto the radar of Professor Jan Sawadzki (Andrzej Chyra), a doctor whose peculiar group of advanced students lives together in a ramshackle apartment building off-campus. Alex quickly learns that her selection to this elite program has less to do with her academics than her poorly understood supernatural affinities. Indeed, all of Sawadzki’s students possess inexplicable superpowers, which have united them in a clandestine study of the paranormal. When an unearthed sculpture triggers the return of an evil god to Cracow’s streets, the group’a investigatory skills are challenged, and Alex may be the key to saving the day.

With Liberek serving as an appealing viewpoint newcomer to the professor’s strange chosen family, Cracow Monsters shows initial promise, combining Polish mythology and a Buffy-like “Scooby gang” of super-powered med students digging into supernatural mysteries against the soggy, storied backdrop of Cracow. The creepy mystery-box rhythms carry the group on a collision course with an evil, body-stealing deity who inhabits a child known only as “the Dark Boy” (Eryk Patsko), who delivers an intensely chilling performance with the help of spectacular makeup and audio effects. Unfortunately, despite a coherent enough set-up, the narrative often becomes muzzy and difficult to follow. The unfamiliar mythology and sloggy pacing are partly to blame, or perhaps there’s just something lost in translation; this isn’t the first time I’ve found Polish TV on the unforgiving side. Whatever the cause, the show never quite advances past its refreshing novelty into something entirely compelling, although its rich milieu renders it perfectly watchable and casually entertaining.

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