SERIES REVIEW – Kasia Adamik and Olga Chajdas, co-creators of Cracow Monsters on Netflix, both co-directed the gripping Polish dystopian thriller Streamer 1983. Here, they create a landscape where monsters, ghouls and demons exist within the framework of contemporary Cracow. But maybe they are the same thing. It is up to a group of pathology students and demonologists to decide what is real and what is a nightmare.
Initially dark and depressing, Cracow Monsters starts off interestingly enough with an authentic Eastern European feel in a Polish dive. The first season opens with lots of sex, booze and the promise of a big-mouthed monster hiding behind dreams. There’s something special about Aleksandra, our protagonist, who suffers from horrific visions and dreams: including of a woman or girl with a dancing hole where her cheeks used to be. Anyway, things got more interesting after she got into Professor Zawadzki’s class. He knows something that we don’t, which may be connected to a strange idol that is being dug up just as he is following his prospective student.
Later, it turns out that Zawadzki has formed a team of young people with extraordinary paranormal abilities, which the professor ‘controls’ – so we are dealing with a kind of Polish X-Men. They are joined by Aleksandra, who, it soon becomes clear, also has unique qualities.
Bizarre Polish horror, based on Slavic mythology and Polish video games
Without going into too much detail, it has to be said that Cracow Monsters is an odd piece of horror. Until we have the exact answer to what is really going on in this series, the casual Netflix viewer will tend to be quickly put off by the rather grotesque events. Events happen all too suddenly, without any particular warning or causality. You should try to memorise everything and remember them to make sense of the connections that can be made much later. Regardless of how bizarre the story and presentation may seem at first (and quite amateurish in places), Krakow Monsters is somehow just crazy enough to keep the screen riveting enough.
The monsters and demons of Slavic mythology have always been a great source of inspiration for the Poles, just think of two Polish video game franchises: the Witcher series, or the also highly successful The Medium, set in a Polish SOT hole. Perhaps in the second or third episode, we begin to piece together who these monsters, demons, and gods from Slavic mythology are and what they want in this Polish city of classical beauty, full of medieval monuments. Incidentally, one of the monsters and scenes seems to have been taken from The Medium (when the monster in the game keeps chasing Marianne). The main character herself strongly resembles Marianne.
Apart from the otherwise fascinating Slavic mythological thread, the quality of Cracow Monsters is otherwise quite shaky – this is true for the horror scenes, the acting and the story in general. It takes a strong enough attunement to the series to not feel that certain scenes are parodies of themselves. This ‘attunement’ means, broadly speaking, that the supernatural part, based on Slavic mythology, feels authentic, which is also the case with the slightly cheezy performances in places and the typically Eastern European monster sequences or effects in others.
I hasten to add that this is far from true for all the characters or monsters and horror scenes. The main characters, Alex, Lucky and the rest of the team, are generally likeable and/or interesting characters. The main villain (played by a young boy) takes a lot of “getting used to”, but he’s certainly not the most impressive antagonist we’ve encountered on Netflix recently.
What happened in Krakow should stay in Krakow?
The big question is how much you accept the surreal part based on Slavic mythology or not. In other words: is it worth investing time in this slowly unfolding and at first seemingly idiotic Polish series or not? Unfortunately, the somewhat amateurish presentation, effects, acting and monster sequences in places take a lot of the enjoyment away, but the series is still enjoyable and exciting overall. If you get a “taste” for the series after the first two episodes, you’ll be hooked all the way through, but if Eastern European Supernatural isn’t your thing, I don’t think you should waste too much time on it. There are plenty of similar works on Netflix.
Direction - 6.4
Actors - 6.2
Story - 6.8
Visuals/Effects - 6.6
Ambience - 7.2
The big question is how much you accept the surreal part based on Slavic mythology or not. In other words: is it worth investing time in this slowly unfolding and at first seemingly idiotic Polish series or not? Unfortunately, the somewhat amateurish presentation, effects, acting and monster sequences in places take a lot of the enjoyment away, but the series is still enjoyable and exciting overall. If you get a "taste" for the series after the first two episodes, you'll be hooked all the way through, but if Eastern European Supernatural isn't your thing, I don't think you should waste too much time on it. There are plenty of similar works on Netflix.
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