The streaming space may be looking to get vastly competitive for Netflix in the weeks to come, given that Apple TV Plus and Disney+ are being launched worldwide with a host of new content, but here is where I feel Netflix is still miles ahead in the game: foreign films and shows. The entertainment sector is brimming with new talent, and the multitude of streaming services we have can only mean good things for makers willing to pitch new and interesting content for the medium. Take July, and a little known Argentine film called ‘El Hijo’ (The Son) hit Netflix and received almost a hundred times the viewership that it received when it was earlier only released in its home country, with its ambiguous ending becoming a hot topic for discussion. Ditto for ‘Dark’, the German and more original, darker version of ‘Stranger Things’, the excellent ‘Money Heist’, and ofcourse, ‘Narcos’. These are still globally popular shows, but foreign TV and its reaches are undergoing a period of renaissance right now, and are we glad to be a part of it.
This directly brings me to this week’s release, an eight-episode French horror series, ‘Marianne’. If you have chanced upon this explainer-cum-review without watching the show, I suggest you jimmy over to Netflix and watch the show first. Coming back to the discussion, for years, we have been treated to spooky horror fests on any Friday the 13th the makers can get their eyes on, months in advance. While most of those movies, including an eponymous remake have mostly been mediocre outings at the cinemas, this direct to streaming French series lands right on the buck. While I will hold my final verdict for the end of this write-up, for the curious souls, I will simply state that I was genuinely terrified.
‘Marianne’ works more as a sum of its parts: the individual stories, the performances, the torment each one, and obviously especially the lead character endures as her horrific writings turn real, rather than only a singular supernatural entity wreaking havoc till the end, to be put to rest by an exorcism, which is a good thing since it subverts some expectations from the big baddie. For more on what I felt about the film, you can scroll to the bottom of this post, for what follows is a detailed look into the ending and some particular aspects of the story. Read on.
The French horror show tells of the life of one Emma Larsimon, a famous French author who has made a fortune selling stories of how her fictional character, Lizzie Larck fends off against a demonic entity, Marianne. Unbeknownst to the public and her fans, Marianne has actually haunted Emma since her childhood in her nightmares, and she created Lizzie on paper to fight back against Marianne. This seems to be working for a while, until one of her childhood friends from her hometown commits suicide in front of her, claiming her mother to be possessed by Marianne, and that she must continue writing to avoid any further harm upon the ones that she loved. She has a nightmare of Marianne again, and amidst rising fear and uncertainty, she returns to her home town to face the evil witch first hand.
After harm befalls her parents at Marianne’s hands, she begins writing again, only to find it come true the next day. She enlists the help of four of her now grown up friends who earlier helped her perform a ritual fifteen years ago to summon Marianne, an event that changed their lives forever. Together, the “shipwreck kids” must put an end to Marianne and her haunting of their small isle county, unless it’s too late and more blood is shed. Bonds are forged, friendships are tested and secrets and histories revealed as Emma traverses deeper into searching for her oppression by Marianne.
The Ending, Explained
One of the many reasons that the finale lacked in magnitude compared to the other episodes was the lack of the element of surprise. Even the big twist, although not one to be seen from miles away, leaves a faint whiff of a scent for a curious watcher to lead to, following the now all too common trope for many horror movies: the malevolent entity haunting our protagonists is seemingly defeated, but in a cliffhanger exposition is revealed to have had the upper hand all this time. This is exactly what happens here.
For getting to the final twist, we will rewind our clocks just a bit to the eighth and final episode, aptly titled ‘Tuesday’, in search of answers and a more regular stream of thought. As I said, the title is apt since throughout the series, Marianne is remembered through a Solomon Grundy like rhyme: Marianne, born on a Tuesday, happy on a Wednesday, married on a Thursday, witch on Friday, caught on Saturday, judged on Sunday, executed on Monday, buried on Tuesday.
This almost perfectly mirrors the episode structure of all eight episodes, with ‘Tuesday’, also the finale, being the eighth and final day of Emma’s ordeal, whence Marianne’s grave is discovered, dug up, and the piece of parchment left behind from the partial burning of her Pact with the Devil, her Kryptonite, so to say, is destroyed, leading to her banishment. During the struggle, the priest has to lay his life down, burning in the fire that purged Marianne’s grave, while Emma wages a spiritual battle with Marianne in the beyond realm, parallel dimension or upside down world, whatever you may want to call it, resisting Marianne’s hold/possession over herself and coming to wake herself from the possession just in time for her to stop killing herself, aided by Aurore.
Once the day of horrors is over, and things seemingly look alright, Emma reunites with Camille, her assistant, who has barely recovered from her encounter with Marianne. She is physically alright as assured by the doctor, but seems to have been affected by the trauma of the incident, voluntarily choosing not to speak. As Emma is driving her away from Elden to her home, Emma continuously vomits and the cause of Camille’s silence is revealed. Turns out that Emma had hallucinated her sexual encounter with Seby at the end of the seventh episode, wherein Marianne tried to get to each one of the surviving friends out to get her by manipulating them.
Emma’s manipulation began with Marianne tending to her loneliness and desire to be with Seby, by making her imagine Seby climbing up to her window and making love to her. Unsurprisingly, the two never meet again to mention it until Emma’s final farewell to him that goes rather sour. Two major hints regarding this are dropped earlier for the more careful audience. The first, Seby’s sudden approval of Emma’s advances, and expressing his mutual dislike for his wife. Second, followed by a shot of the two sleeping together, Emma finds him conspicuously gone the next morning with a lingering shot of the open window.
Even while Emma resists and retorts, Camille already seems to know the cause of Emma’s sickness. The episode ends with Emma taking the pregnancy test, which turns out to be positive (Enceinte), confirming Camille’s fear of Marianne not leaving after all. It cannot be said for certain who or what penetrated Emma that night in her state of hallucination making her see it as Seby, but an odd dollar could be bet over the same black creature, one of Marianne’s manifestations that emerged during one of Emma’s dreams of the delivery of Seby’s baby being harboured by Emma. The same is confirmed through the final lines in the show, narrated in voiceover, perceivably the end of the new blog post that Emma wrote, yet again mirroring her life and coming true. Marianne never left empty handed. Guess now we know.
“Lizzie (protagonist of Emma’s series of novels) can rest a bit. We’ll stay on the rock, for a while. And she will keep the piece of darkness with her. She will warm it up. Within her. In her lap, she’ll transform it. And after that? After what? After, we shall see. Come what may, the ocean will say.”
What was the Blackwater/ The Edge of the Ocean/ The City?
In a word, hell. Purgatory. The place where Marianne attempts to take Emma to, referring to it as “the city”, the residing place of “Dark Man”, her spouse, the demon king of cats known as Beleth, and “kings of all who live and die”. Taking her to the Blackwater would be Marianne’s final step in possessing her, a process that was set into motion the very first day a young Emma encountered Marianne’s grave, the day her episodic nightmares started. Had Emma not resisted, she would have been a lost cause, beyond saving, serving as a conduit on Earth meant only to spread Marianne’s terror among people.
The Writer and The Witch, United
Safe to say that a major chunk of this episode’s story and understanding have the relationship between Emma and Marianne at their core, with the story starting and ending with it. Chronologically, this all started when Marianne resurfaces one fateful day, forming that perfectly circular hole in the ground where, conceivably so, her grave lie in the ground. Emma hears voices coming from the ground, and attempts to put her ear closer to the voice that seems to be calling out to her. She is pulled down, this being the beginning of Emma’s infestation by Marianne, who commands that she would be now dreaming of her, foretelling that she (Marianne) would be there with her always until the day she can free Marianne from her grave in her physical form, which she does in the final bits of the last episode. In that, Emma isn’t completely possessed until the last sequence where she walks with Marianne to the Blackwater, but all through her teenage and young adult years, she has nightmares of Marianne, writing about them, spreading Marianne’s fear among people. According to her, she is fighting back by creating Lizzie Larck to fight Marianne off, but actually, she is doing the devil’s job.
This is the primary reason why Marianne’s spirit was so hell bent on Emma continuing to write her book, surfacing only once she announces her final book. It isn’t Emma’s writings that were coming true; it was Marianne’s wishes that she whispered to Emma, being converted to the written word that were being demonically fulfilled. It is, as the priest said. Emma was Marianne.
A Shoe in the Grave
I am going to share a tiny observation here that surely piqued my interest in the series further. Remember the tiny bit where we repeatedly see a shiny purple boot lying across the hole in the ground above Marianne’s grave, through which she later emerges? There is no mystery in the revelation that it was indeed Emma’s boot that got left out when she was pulled into the grave by Marianne, her first encounter with her as a child. Curiously so, during the elaborately illustrated sequence of Marianne’s origins as a Witch in Elden in the Molitor Report, it is shown that she is hung for witchcraft and occult practices before being lowered into the ground, while one of her shoes is falling off, only loosely hanging by her foot.
To add to that, when the human apparition of Marianne emerges from the grave, the focus seems squarely set on one of her feet being covered, while the other is curiously concealed by the spread of her dress, which I think is far from a coincidence. I don’t think that this adds to the overall plot of the film, but is intended as an easter egg, a reference to the parallels between Emma and Marianne that have been there since the beginning.
Is There Going To Be A Season 2?
Surely and certainly, unless somehow, the commerce of this series gets messed up along the way, something which I think is unlikely given what I have written in the subsequent section. Surely, the fate of sequels with Netflix squarely rests on how well the series does, critically, and more so commercially, the former of which I don’t think should be a problem. More so, story-wise, there definitely is scope of a second season given how the first season ends on a cliffhanger note, with Emma revealed to be pregnant and still infested by Marianne, as I have stated above. You can read more about those details, here.
You don’t really have to be a genius or have a heart of steel to know that the longer you are subjected to the horror, the tougher it is for its spell to break off once the series is over and the black screen hits. For this reason alone, I have had limited engagement with horror TV series, which are few to begin with (the scary ones atleast), special mention to last year’s excellent ‘The Haunting of Hill House’, lest I want to sleep with my lights on. ‘Marianne’, however, demands it. It sucks you in right from the first episode, and despite the occasional dip in pace and plot, manages to keep you sufficiently interested till the final episode.
The proceedings do get silly in the finale episode, by which all of the horror is foregone and you are just hoping for a worthy resolution, but oft it is about the journey more than the destination. The seven episodes preceding the finale are terrific, especially the ones whose runtime aligns more with the 30 minute segment; the finale, less so. The scares are inventive enough to keep you guessing given that there are only two ways an impending jump scare dissipates. But if you can add lurking tension to that with some great camerawork, even if it is something as simple as inverting it on its head, the battle is already half won.
Horror films are often criticised for their lack of an involving plot. ‘Marianne’ partially overcomes that too by virtue of plot twists, even if predictable, coming at you quickly, right until the finale. All this set against an increasingly desolate, dreary and extremely well captured French isle to serve as your backdrop, serviceable performances, and backed by the R-rated gory freedom that the TV medium allows one to enjoy, make ‘Marianne’ a good watch.