Viewer’s Discretion: “Quicksand” and “Rillington Place”

Quicksand

‘QUICKSAND’ (NETFLIX)

School mass shootings aren’t quite a daily occurrence here in the U.S., but it’s sadly gotten to a point where you could imagine that happening. This Swedish series doesn’t come from that depressing reality. Sweden has faced eight school mass shootings since 1967, while in our own country there have been 148 just this year, as of this writing. It’s anyone’s guess what will happen in the week between me writing this and it appearing in the paper.

Based on a novel by Malin Giolito, “Quicksand” unveils the tragedy and then works along two timelines to examine the circumstances behind it. Each focuses on Maja Norberg (Hanna Ard hn), an over-achieving senior in high school with a bright future ahead of her, but with a brewing discontent about the pace of her humdrum life. Enter Sebastian (Felix Sandman), a self-destructive rich kid, whose drug abuse and dysfunctional family life don’t obscure the glitter of his family’s wealth and a promise of some adventure for Maja. She’s also flattered that Sebastian would give her the time of day — as are her parents, who encourage the pairing while blinded by the status it brings.

But you know from the beginning that Maja and Sebastian’s story will end up in a classroom, with firearms and dead classmates, and as the show leads the viewer up to that moment, it juxtaposes Maja’s time in jail, waiting for her trial, isolated except for visits with her lawyer that force her to go over the terrible incident again, and again, and again.

The Swedish aspect gives the series the opportunity to focus on concepts beyond just the prevalence of violence as it would be in an American series, like the problem of class structures and even the shame of being an immigrant. The latter is personified by Maja’s best friend, Samir Said (William Spetz), who not only hasn’t got the luxury of being self-destructive like Sebastian, but is also the target of classist and racist insults from Sebastian designed to cut off social paths not meant for undesirables.

This crosses over into emotional abuse, and the effect it has on autonomy. Maja is the clear victim here though “Quicksand” depicts it as a credible line passed from top to bottom, from Swedish society to Sebastian’s father to Sebastian to Maja and on down, a deadly chain in which the harm is not isolated. Emotional abuse, in this context, is a societal sickness.

“Quicksand” benefits from the time shifts, which builds good tension, but also allows it to subvert the teen romance tropes effectively as it morphs into a cautionary tale aspect that feels genuine and looks at the bigger picture that is often obscured to the people in the middle of these situations.

‘RILLINGTON PLACE’ (SHUDDER, SUNDANCE)

Given the current obsession with serial killers, this three-part moody drama focusing on British killer Reg Christie who, during the 1940s and `50s, murdered at least eight people, offers a grim portrayal of the events that also point a finger at the way certain dangerous people can navigate normal society.

Portrayed as an irritating and officious little creep by Tim Roth, Christie attempts to assert authority over the upstairs tenants in the house he and his wife, Ethel (Samantha Morton), rent and live in. Christie infiltrates neighbors’ lives by proffering lies about his past experience and current expertise and addressing uncomfortable details of their lives that give him intimate access to their problems by appearing to want to help them.

The series focuses mainly on the murder of Beryl Evans, here played by “Killing Eve”’s Jodie Comer, which is a central incident to the larger case, and revelatory in Christie’s methods and obsessions.

Roth is perfect as Christie, an example of the monsters that are bred under our noses, unnerving in that way normal, boring twerps are, the kind of people who slip under society’s radar as ineffectual but proper, and are able to misdirect from their own darkness. We eventually come to see Christie as a man trying to keep order — a macabre and sick order, of course — and are left with questions about how a tilted desperation to preserve what is considered good and proper can justify dark transgressions.


Originally published at https://www.berkshireeagle.com on June 7, 2019.

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