Netflix’s new Polish fantasy series, Cracow Monsters, is about an eccentric research group that investigates paranormal activities in Cracow.
The story follows Alex, a first-year medical student who is accepted into Professor Zawadzki’s research group. She soon finds out that it is an occult group of which she is the ninth member.
Parallelly, a miner finds a mysterious object and brings it home. The object is later revealed to be a statue of Triglav. Triglav, the god with three heads, created the world according to Slavic folklore.
A young boy, Rafel, is attacked by a monster. Alex kills the monster but cannot save the young boy. Rafel is possessed by a demon called Harewit and becomes Hvor. Hvor raises demons, zombies, and most importantly, Spas. Spas are instructed to bring chaos.
In a plague-like situation Alex, with the help of Lucky, a senior student in the group, tries to figure out her past and her nightmares. She finds the key to the underworld in her mother’s purse.
In the underworld, she realizes she is an incarnation of the Slavic mythical princess Wanda. Her purpose is to defeat Hvor and usher in a new era. While freeing Wanda from the underworld, she gets trapped herself but manages to escape with the help of her guardian angel.
Back in the mortal world, after a series of rituals and a significant loss to the team, Alex overpowers Hvor and destroys the Triglav. By subduing a deity, she breaks an eternal law for which the God of the underworld warns repercussions.
Barbara Liberek keeps the viewers somewhat interested in the show with her relatively riveting performance as Alex. She flawlessly acts out the confusion, fright and gender fluidity of her character.
All supporting actors play their characters and their respective quirks without any observable imperfection, but none stand out as memorable.
More often than not, the supporting actors do not embody the tension that is expected as an aftermath of the near-tragic incidents in the series.
With immaculate set designs and the use of CGI to the bare minimum, the production design is where the series primarily shines. It is reflective of what the show could achieve if the writing was compelling enough.
Cracow Monsters draws heavily from Dan Brown-Esque novels, replaces classical mythology with Slavic folklore, and attempts to add elements of horror in the genre. The consequence is an elaborate mess of incomprehensible ideas.
The pace, objectionably slow, was at times cacophonised with upbeat contemporary songs that failed to complement the mood. On the other hand, the generic horror music and notes that attempted to heighten the tension fell short of elements about shock or surprise.
The writers focus on the need for order in a city filled with chaos. But there is little detail to what leads to that chaos. Rafel, the possessed boy who seeks chaos and power, has no motive or story.
The Slavic myths are not expanded on, the foundation of the research group and its objectives are unclear. The professor leading the group is mostly absent from it and indifferent to the consequences of his actions.
All of it could still be easier to watch if it wasn’t for the torturous cinematography. Darkness is essential to anything horror for it adds to the motif of the unknown but Cracow Monster takes it far too seriously.
It is impossible to watch unless you squint your eyes. The visual palette is so strenuous that it feels relieving to see a few well-lit shots that close up on the characters’ faces.
The dark rain-drenched city of Cracow could have been used as a character in itself but there is little significance given to it, the series could as well have been set in any other European city with Slavic heritage. Slavic folklore itself is not focussed on.
The series follows Alex’s past, present and future but does not connect it to her mythical avatar, prophesy or destiny.
The show attempts to bring everything and everyone together in the final act, following the tenets of fantasy-drama, but the narrative is ultimately aimless with neither energy nor impact.
Unoriginal in its ideas and faulty in its execution, Cracow Monsters will not live up to any expectation that a viewer may have. But there are enough provisions for a sequel to untangle the mess and make the overall show more palatable.
Also Read: Cracow Monsters summary and ending explained