TV has had no shortage of witches these past few years, from The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina to the Charmed reboot. While I love the witch archetype as a metaphor for powerful, radical women, one thing these witch TV shows are lacking is a legitimately frightening witch. Lucky for me, when Netflix announced the French series Marianne I was not disappointed. Written and directed by Samuel Bodin and Quoc Dang Tran, this series is decisively one of Netflix’s most frightening series yet, next to Mike Flanagan’s The Haunting of Hill House.
Marianne is about horror writer Emma Larsimon (Victoire Du Bois) who turned her recurring childhood nightmares into a bestselling horror book series despite a rather tumultuous personal life. The are about the witch Marianne who is repeatedly defeated by heroine Lizzie Larck. At a book signing in Paris, she is approached by her childhood friend Caroline whose mother appears to be possessed by Marianne in real life, and wants Emma to return home so she can help her defeat her curse. After Marianne presumably threatens Emma’s parents, she agrees. What follows is a blend of fact and fiction, with the real-life Marianne threatening Emma to write about her so she can continue to hurt others in real life.
It is an understatement to mention how terrifying Marianne is. Not only is she spooky in her true form, she has the ability to body jump from person to person, making capturing and confronting her difficult. Early in the series she is inside the body of Madame Daugeron, Caroline’s mother, and the actress Mireille Herbstmeyer should win several awards for creeping everyone the hell out. She’s equal parts Blair Witch and Parker Crane/The Bride in Black from the Insidious franchise. Normally I hate when a TV series or film has the monster crop up frequently because it gets repetitive and isn’t as scary as it might initially seem. In this case, having Marianne appear every few minutes was enough to induce a heart attack.
The core of the story is about childhood trauma, and how the decisions we make as children turn into the ways we self-sabotage as adults. One could interpret Marianne as the demon all writers have, where we use art to make sense of all of the strange and terrible things that happen to us, only to be consumed by it. Marianne gives Emma the ultimatum that if she doesn’t destroy her own life, she will take everything from her, leading Emma down her own path of self-destruction. Even though the supernatural elements within in the story are presented as very real (including a rather creative interpretation of hell), Marianne is densely packed with psychological terror and real life, trauma-inducing events, including the death of a child and the loss of one’s relatives.
Overall, Marianne is perhaps one of the best new horror shows of the decade, following Mike Flanagan’s The Haunting of Hill House and other Netflix original series that take dynamic risks when it comes to horror storytelling. With a shocking cliffhanger toward the end of season one (I won’t spoil it for you) I’m hoping this series will get a season two sometime soon.