Released a week after The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, Italian Netflix original Luna Nera had quite the challenge to stand out, even moreso given the saturated market of other supernatural series. Despite a promising dark episode to kick things off, the series fails to reach its potential, oftentimes lacking substance with many under-developed plot points and agenda-driven writing, the latter of which becoming more present as the episodes tick along. While it isn’t an inherently bad series, it’s also one that doesn’t do enough to break through the realm of mediocrity.
The story takes place in 17th century Italy, revolving around Ade and her brother who live in a world where women who are suspected of witchcraft are prosecuted, hunted by a group calling themselves the Benandanti. After losing their grandmother, Ade and her brother escape and find themselves under the protection of a group of ancient witches. There, she finds out that she’s the chosen one and harnesses magical powers, quickly falling in love with Pietro, son of the Benandanti’s leader, Sante. From here, Ade faces many challenges across the 6 episode series, including trying to figure out her past and who she really is.
On the surface, Luna Nera has all the ingredients to be another decent supernatural series. The first episodes set the scene well, offering a dark tone and introducing some interesting topics, including the long-running debate between religion and science. However, this is quickly discarded in favour of concentrating more on the romantic drama between Ade and Pietro, following by some heavy and clumsy agenda-driven writing.
It’s not all bad though; the overall story is intriguing and the characters are really likable too. We also find out a little more about the origin of the witches and their magic, even if this isn’t explored in as much detail as one may expect. The chemistry between Valente and Leptis, who form an unlikely bond over revenge and justice, is arguably the one highlight here and helps add some depth to the character interactions. Ade and Pietro together however, lack in chemistry which is problematic, especially given the obvious nods toward Romeo and Juliet as they both come from opposing families.
As mentioned previously, Luna Nera’s most interesting topic is also the one it fails to tackle head on. There’s scope here for a fascinating debate between science and religion, especially given the teasing ideas around how each attempts to explain witchcraft but it’s frustratingly abandoned midway through the show. Production-wise, Luna Nera looks great, with some dark and muted colours throughout but also offering up some dazzling special effects when magic is involved.
When it comes to supernatural and fantasy shows, Netflix has a lot of variety on the platform, especially with its most recent and popular offerings like Sabrina and The Witcher. Unfortunately, Luna Nera pales by comparison, relying far too heavily on its dramatic love stories and feminism, which is a shame as the series has some serious potential. Still, the story is quite interesting with some surprising twists and likable characters along for the ride. Luna Nera is unlikely to cast a spell on its audience and stand out among other, more successful fantasy series of its kind but if this is green-lit for a second season, there’s plenty of scope for this to change.
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Verdict - 5/10