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When I first heard about the concept for Mortel, I was incredibly intrigued. After watching the thrilling French series Marianne earlier this year, I was ready for another tense show revolving around the idea of the supernatural, this time dabbling in voodoo magic. While the show does tackle some original themes surrounding voodoo and offers up some exciting set pieces, it fails to really deliver anything memorable as Mortel instead focuses more on the teen’s drama, resulting in several under-developed plotlines rather than a consistency to the main mystery presented here.
The story follows three very different teenagers as they are brought together by Voodoo magic. Sofiane is the troubled teen who is determined to find out what happened to his missing brother no matter what, while Victor is the bullied school outcast who has recently tried to kill himself. They’re eventually joined by Luisa who has been surrounded by voodoo all her life thanks to her Grandmother, and who eventually becomes the glue that holds the trio together. Once this has been established, Mortel presents the teenagers plenty of challenges to overcome while trying to solve the mystery surrounding Reda’s disappearance, leading to a big cliffhanger as we reach the final episode.
Mortel did start quite strongly with its first episode, giving us plenty to think about as we met all three of our troubled teenagers and Sofiane comes face to face with the mysterious God, Obe. Unfortunately, Mortel then struggles to match this level of excitement, with the main problem coming from multiple plot threads explored and then abandoned; especially with the various secondary characters that leave us with many unanswered questions by the time the season draws to a close.
The themes surrounding the show are quite interesting though. Mortel tackles a lot of life issues teenagers face on a day to day basis; bullying, struggling to fit in, substance abuse and in particular mental health. Mortel also mentions “hikikomori” which is a Japanese term used for young adults who have become recluse and suffer from mental health problems. Many students fall victim to this condition in the show too and with the ever-growing mental health issues in the world, this was quite harrowing to watch but also helps the show feel culturally relevant.
The three main leads did a decent job with their performances, despite the narrative often feeling a little weak in places. I quite enjoyed watching Manon Bresch (Luisa) deliver her role as she slowly becomes more and more involved in the occult. I would have liked to see more scenes with her Grandma though, as the voodoo magic rituals are arguably the highlight of the entire show.
The musical score is pretty good too; French Rap and Hip Hop helps the show set the mood quite well, while we’re also graced with some tense and daunting orchestral scores during the disturbing scenes. The editing and cinematography are consistently decent, especially when the scene hues change to red and black when Obe appears, and other times the camera stylishly spins or turns to mirror movement.
Amidst the multitude of different supernatural teen dramas, Mortel tries its best to stand out with an original premise surrounding voodoo. While it’s a refreshing idea, the show fails to reach its full potential, let down by several unfinished subplots and a lack of likability for some of our characters. The show does offer some interesting themes though and has a few tense and interesting moments worth remembering, but not enough to make this Netflix series stand out for the audience it’s trying to attract. Anyone looking for an easy and quick-to-binge teen drama, Mortel might be worth checking out, but it’s also unlikely to be one you’ll remember for long once you’re done with it.