The Third Substance
The Heart Notes
Based on the 1985 book of the same name, Perfume is Netflix’s latest 6 episode mini-series that brings the classic murder mystery novel to life. Balancing a tense atmosphere with a slowly unraveling mystery, Perfume is a well written series that does a pretty good job adapting its source material. While this is unlikely to be a crime thriller that’s remembered for years to come, thanks in part to playing in such a saturated genre, Perfume does well with what it has to work with, making for an enthralling watch nonetheless.
The story begins much like other psychological thrillers; a brutal murder leaves investigators scrambling for leads or clues. In the case of Perfume, the victim is missing her scent glands and hair making this job all the harder. As layers of the mystery unfold, all fingers point to a cult-like group of former classmates for the victim, all of which seem to know more than they’re letting on. As the episodes tick by and the body count rises, a game of cat and mouse ensues as lead investigator Nadja tries to piece together the clues and find who’s responsible.
Peppered throughout the series are flashbacks which help shed light on the history of the classmates, slowly revealing the secrets each of them hold. These scenes work really well to establish the character dynamics too and give an extra dimension to their personas when we return to the present day. This helps keep the mystery at the heart of the show and the equal focus on both timelines leads nicely to the big reveal at the end as we find out who the killer is.
Perfume’s story isn’t particularly original but the subtle hints of Hannibal and fellow German thriller Dark are a nice inclusion. It helps gives the show a sinister edge and when it comes to the atmosphere and characterisation, Perfume nails both with ease. The characters are flawed, full of dark secrets and ugly traits. Even Nadja herself, who quickly establishes herself as the focal figure of authority, is involved in a sordid affair with her colleague. This portrayal of flawed character throughout the series is some of the reason Perfume works as well as it does.
It’s also worth noting at this point that Perfume is both explicit and gory. Expect plenty of sex, nudity and gruesome imagery throughout the 6 episodes. In a way, this leads into the thematic core of the series which stems from our emotional response to the sense of smell and the unpleasant way this is manipulated. It’s something that’s regularly brought up and while the sex scenes do feel a little over the top and excessive, the overall theme that runs through these segments makes it a little easier to stomach.
The general cinematography in the series is impressively implemented too. Expect plenty of sweeping long shots, uncomfortably long silences and brightly saturated colours during the flashback sequences. When it comes to production design and camera work, it’s hard not to be impressed with this German Netflix Original.
While Perfume nails most of its elements, when the final credits roll and the mystery is resolved there isn’t anything that really stands out as particularly outstanding. Make no mistake about it, this crime thriller is certainly impressive and if you can get invested in the characters there’s a whole lot to like about this show as you try to figure out who the culprit is. The flashbacks and present day scenes are well implemented too but with only 6 episodes and a complete resolution to the story, it’s unlikely to be a crime thriller that’s remembered as prolifically as the book it’s adapted from.