Episode 1 – | Review Score – 3/5
Episode 2 – | Review Score – 3/5
Episode 3 – | Review Score – 3.5/5
Episode 4 – | Review Score – 3/5
Episode 5 – | Review Score – 3.5/5
Episode 6 – | Review Score – 3/5
Harlan Coben has a knack for creating page-turning books that seem to translate incredibly well to the small screen. After the success of both Safe and The Stranger, the prolific American author teams up with Netflix once more for their third effort. Despite some initial promise, a nicely worked mystery and lots of trademark twists and turns along the way, The Woods fails to create a compelling enough drama to match what’s become before. There’s an enjoyable enough show here to watch in the moment but also one that lacks the lasting power to stand up next to others in this genre.
The story loosely follows the book of the same name, but this time the setting and characters have been changed to give things a distinct Polish flavour. This actually works pretty well though and gives the show some uniqueness as it tackles the main mystery gripping this story. In 1994, four kids go missing in the woods during a summer camp; two of the kids turn up dead and the other two vanish without a trace. One of the missing kids happens to be our main protagonist Pawel’s sister and from here, this past timeline sees Pawel set out to try and discover what happened to Kamile, while we jump back and see what led up to (and followed) that fateful encounter.
Running parallel to this is the 2019 present-day narrative which follows Pawel as he works as a prosecutor, dealing with a rape case for a girl called Klaudia. When Inspector Jork arrives with news about the summer camp, Pawel’s thrown back in the thick of the mystery as the body of a man named Marek appears to hold clues linked to this case. Even stranger, he happens to have pictures from the summer camp in his pocket. From here, the story jumps back and forth between the two time periods with more clues being revealed over the episodes surrounding who is responsible for the murders and, more crucially, the events that actually took place that fateful night.
The mystery itself is pretty good and there’s numerous layers and interesting twists that keep things exciting and entice you to watch through to the next episode. When all is revealed during the finale, there’s a fair amount of surprise with the outcome and the wait is most certainly worth it to reach this point – despite the ambiguous final shots when it fades to black.
Unfortunately, where The Woods slips up is in the amount of screen-time given to Klaudia and Pawel’s present-day case. A lot of the run-time is spent building up her story and putting pressure on Pawel as he juggles this with the ghosts of his past. By the end of the series though, it all ultimately amounts to nothing as it fades away in favour of the mystery elements of the summer camp, which are far more interesting.
The series uses the Polish location well though and there’s a good amount of sweeping, establishing shots to reinforce this. The woods look unforgiving and the grainy feel to some of the scenes capture that grim tone the show is clearly going for. The book has been translated incredibly well to this European setting and right the way through there’s a growing sense of uneasiness and tension as you start to distrust the different characters you meet who may have played a part in what happened.
In terms of atmosphere, The Woods absolutely nails it at times and the flashback scenes in 1994 are captivating as you start to question who is and isn’t trustworthy. It’s just a pity then that the 2019 timeline doesn’t follow suit and it’s something that ultimately holds this back from being a better title.
Overall then, The Woods is a decent enough mystery to keep you watching until the end but doesn’t do enough to stand out next to others in the mystery genre. The story itself is good but it’s bogged down by some unnecessary busy-work in the present day and the show never quite recovers from this despite a decent reveal at the end. Still, it’s certainly not a bad show and it’s good enough to watch through to the end but it’s also a far cry from other mysteries we’ve seen so far this year, playing out as a more formulaic slice of drama than it perhaps should be.