TV Series Review: The Woods (W głębi lasu)

Who doesn’t love a good murder-mystery? Their universal popularity is no doubt why so many of mystery writer Harlan Coben’s books have been adapted into TV miniseries all over the world. His 2007 novel, The Woods, is the seventh such adaptation with more to come. The author is reported to have signed a five-year deal with Netflix to develop 14 of his titles into series and films.

Pawel Kopcinski is a successful government prosecutor in Warsaw, Poland. (In the book, his name is Paul Copeland and he lives in New Jersey.) The widowed father of a little girl is knee-deep in a high-profile rape case involving the son of a famous news investigator when he gets called to the morgue by Inspector Jork. A man named Marek Kowalski has been found murdered and documents with Pavel’s name on them were found on the body. Pawel sees the man and identifies him as his old friend Artur Perkowski. Back in 1994, the two of them were chaperones at a camp for teenagers run by Dawid Goldsztajn. One fateful night, four teenagers went into the neighbouring forest and two were found murdered the next morning. The other two, Artur, and Pawel’s sister Kamilla, were missing. For 25 years, Pawel has been haunted by his sister’s disappearance. Now, with Artur lying on the table in front of him, Pawel wonders if Kamilla has been alive all this time. This leads Pawel to start investigating the case, and revisit memories and relationships that he thought were best left in the past.

Just six episodes long with each one running about 50 minutes, THE WOODS is easy viewing even with the subtitles. (Do NOT watch the dubbed version!) From the opening scene, we’re drawn into Pawel’s world as finds new clues to the murders and chases down leads. The story jumps back and forth between 1994 and today using two sets of actors for Pawel and his old flame, Laura Goldsztajn, who is now a university professor. (The adult actors from 1994 play the same characters in 2019.) Laura, too, gets roped into the mystery when one of her students anonymously submits an essay detailing Pawel and Laura’s tryst in the woods that night.

For the most part, THE WOODS is highly rewarding fare with solid performances and slick production values throughout. The story does, however, go a bit off the rails at the end of the fifth episode when the reveals start coming. The dialogue, too, gets a bit wonky and too often relies on the trope of “I have something really important to tell you but I can’t do it over the phone. Meet me in an abandoned building at 7 pm.” Okay, I’m exaggerating but it’s that sort of dialogue. There is also the question of whether Pawel has the superpower of flight as he watches his father drive off to the woods in his car and, in the next scene, Pawel is there watching him. Maybe he got there on his skateboard.

Some viewers have taken exception to the story’s ambiguous ending but I found it reasonably satisfying. My bigger issue was with how Pawel suddenly remembers things that are really important to finding out who is behind the murders. Of course, if he would remember them in the first episode, the story would have been significantly shorter and probably less interesting.

THE WOODS is available now Netflix. Even with its limitations, it’s still well worth checking out!

Watch the review recorded on Facebook Live on Friday, August 7th, 8:30 am HK time!

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