International TV that will keep you up at night: Top of the Lake and The Returned

One of the great things about TV these days is that so many international programs are available here in the United States, on DVD or through online streaming. Recently I watched two television productions, one from New Zealand (via BBC and the Sundance Channel) and one from France, both of which were incredibly compelling and much different than programs you are apt to catch on American primetime.

Top of the Lake, a miniseries directed Jane Campion, takes place in an isolated community in New Zealand. It focuses on a young police detective, Robin Griffin, who has gone back to her hometown to be with her ill mother. While she is there she is called to help on a case in which 12 year-old Tui tries to kill herself in the lake. Tui is rescued, but it is discovered that she is pregnant. Soon after being interviewed by police about her pregnancy she disappears, sending Robin on an obsessive search to find the girl. Her search is complicated by a web of dark secrets that enmesh the small community, including those of Tui’s father and Robin herself. The scenery is stunning, and the character development and the unsettling plot twists kept me on the edge of my seat wondering what would happen next.

The Returned focuses on another isolated community, this one in the French Alps, where old secrets are coming back to haunt the townspeople. This time, though, it begins when several local people who are dead suddenly reappear. They don’t remember their deaths or have any memory of the intervening years. As they reappear and try to go about their previous lives, their families struggle with shock and confusion. Other unexplained phenomena begin to disrupt the town as well: power outages, vicious attacks, and a mysterious loss of water from the local reservoir. How are these things related to those who have returned? This is the first season of this show, with at least one more season planned, and I found it to be very well done and one of the creepiest things I’ve seen. The music, by Mogwai, is fantastically moody and adds to the eerie feel of the show.

If you are looking for a new series to suck you in and not let you go, I highly recommend either of these. Just don’t blame me when you stay up all night binge watching to see what happens next!