Temperatures are rising across the Northern Hemisphere, and the best solution for getting out of the heat—outside of air conditioning and frozen treats—is to chill yourself to the core with a healthy dose of horror. Books, films, and games might be obvious choices to turn to, but horror TV shows have been making a great resurgence, especially outside the United States. Here’s my list of the top five international horror shows to watch—and then watch again with friends—available on Netflix now:
I could write entire papers on the incredible elements at play in Ares, a Dutch horror series focused on med student Rosa. Pumped full of ambition and focus, Rosa follows the rabbit hole down into a secretive association that promises to get her where she wants to be. The aesthetic of Ares helps establish the narrative alongside the powerful performances: rich, wood-paneled halls splattered with classical paintings and lit by harsh, exposed neon chandeliers create a wonderfully uncomfortable atmosphere. Despite what other members of the association try to tell Rosa, the rooms of the building do not feel like home. As Rosa begins to settle in and move towards her goals, both she and the audience are brought in to watch as an inky darkness overtakes the organization and spoils it from the inside out. Gore fans will enjoy the sheer amount of sticky viscera that accompanies the runtime of Ares, while those that prefer a stretched out, ominous narrative will find what they’re looking for in the ratcheted-up tension between Rosa and those around her.
There’s something in the lake in the Italian village where Curon is set. Anna returns to town after being ousted 17 years before with her teenage twins, Daria and Mauro. As the twins try to settle into a place that actively turns against them for their shadowy family history, submerged secrets resurface and begin to wreak havoc. The main plot focuses heavily on the twins but manages to mostly skirt standard teen drama by forcing the pair out of the halls of the high school and into the wilderness around the village. Curon snuck up on me, the same way the monsters of the series sneak up on the protagonists. While I expected a tense family thriller, chock full of familial arguments and teenage rebellion, the horror blossoms after the first episode. Scares are quick, timed with effective audio stings. The families in the series feel realistic and genuine, and there’s an appealing surprise of positive queer representation and acceptance. Episodes spiral easily into one another and will leave you questioning what and who is real by the time the finale arrives.
Tabula Rasa follows Mie, a woman with severe amnesia, as she attempts to pull together her memories after being placed in an inpatient facility in connection to a missing man. Mie is haunted not only by her lack of memory but by her distinct lack of trust in those around her. Fans of the widely acclaimed Haunting of Hill House will love Tabula Rasa for its deep dive into the effects of grief, and for its ability to twist the ones we love into ghosts that haunt us for the rest of our lives. Keeping up with the timeline of Tabula Rasa is simple enough—captions pop up to signal exactly when we are in the storyline—and yet the narrative manages to pull off a heavy dose of deception for both the audience and Mie. We are only given the knowledge of what she’s aware of in the present, and this allows for a sense of frustration that reels the viewer into Mie’s state of mind. We are never aware of connections before she’s made them herself and we are kept guessing as to what she’ll unlock from her memory next. Though there’s a lack of blatant jump scares, especially as the series passes its climax, the emotional weight behind each terrifying moment offers a greater payoff than a single monstrous figure.
In all honesty, I tried to watch Marianne multiple times over, and never succeeded in making it further than the first episode. This isn’t because the show is weak, or that my first impressions were negative. In fact, Marianne scared me so thoroughly that getting past the first episode was a test of how much fear I could endure in a dark room. Marianne follows Emma, an acclaimed author fresh off of completing her first—and, to her insistence, only—horror series about a witch who feeds from the suffering of a small town. That witch is the titular Marianne, and the town is a fictionalized version of Emma’s own seaside hometown. Emma’s reception by the townsfolk is unwelcoming at best, who consider her destructive and callous. Tragedy follows her, and she is the reason why fog rolls in so heavily off of the ocean. Despite this, Emma is forced to stay in town as Marianne makes it clear that she is uninterested in staying on the page. Marianne is gruesome and pumped full of shocks, gore, and just enough social drama to propel it all to the finish.
While other shows on this list find their homes in waterfront towns, Black Spot allows itself to be swallowed by an ancient forest. The color palette of the series is defined by mossy greens and deep browns—a nice break from the standard gloom of greys with shocks of red that pervade most horror. Black Spot further stands out as the only series on this list to currently have two seasons, and the only series that feels more thriller than full-on horror. The second season of Black Spot blends seamlessly with the first, avoiding a jarring transition by sweeping right from one season to another. Though there are fewer scares present in the runtime of the show compared to others on this list, it amps up a discomfort that helps to push along the narrative while protagonist Laurène and the audience uncover the secrets of Villefranche and of Laurène’s own past. This makes the 16 hours of content beautifully bingeable, and while it isn’t outright frightening, the sense of unease ebbing from the forest maintains an appropriately chilling atmosphere.