Landing on Netflix today is the German mystery thriller, Black Island (aka Schwarze Insel). Directed by Miguel Alexandre, the movie stars Hanns Zischler, Alice Dwyer, and Mercedes Müller and tells the story of a high school student called Jonas, who becomes romantically entangled with his teacher.
In the movie, Jonas lives on a small island with his grandpa. He attends the local school, has a collection of friends, and is trying his best to move forward in life following the recent and tragic death of his parents.
Then one day, Helena Jung arrives in town. Helena is the school’s new German teacher, who has come to the island to replace another faculty member who was involved in an accident.
Upon seeing Helena, Jonas is smitten, and he soon discovers his feelings are being reciprocated. Helena shows a significant interest in her student, and actively takes the lead in developing a relationship.
But unbeknown to Jonas, Helena holds a dark secret, and her interest in him is more than just romance. As the story unfolds, things take a sinister turn, and it’s not long before Helena reveals her true colours.
Black Island is very much a domestic drama, mixed with elements of a dark teen thriller. The movie deals in deception and seduction, as well as a spot of murder, and relies on a miniscule cast to tell its story.
Set in a coastal town, surrounded by endless winding roads and the backdrop of the sea, the focus of this film is on small-scale storytelling. The location creates a sense of isolation and inescapability for the characters, which is perfect for unravelling buried secrets.
But the location is arguably the best thing about this movie. While Black Island is beautifully shot, and knows how to use its surroundings to its advantage, the tale being told here feels very hollow and unimaginative.
All of the stuff about high school seduction has been played out to death in various other productions, and in a much better way. And as for the mystery angle of this movie, well, it’s neither mysterious or original.
Black Island is presented like a low-level thriller, and never moves beyond this. I’m not entirely sure why this particular script was developed into a film, because this has TV mini-series written all over it.
It is the sort of thing that should play out over the course of a couple of nights, while being enjoyed with a cup of tea and half a packet of biscuits. That’s not me trying to belittle TV mini-series, but they are different beasts to feature-length movies, and there are different expectations associated with each.
If I switch on Netflix to watch a movie, then I expect to get a movie. This simply doesn’t feel like a movie and what I got was not what I wanted.
On the more positive side, Black Island looks good and features strong performances from the cast. The actors handle the material well, and there is a sense that they could tell this story in their sleep if need be.
As already mentioned, the setting plays a big part in this movie, and while there is a certain bleakness to the backdrop (in keeping with the story), it is still beautiful to look at. Take out the stuff about the student/teacher romance, as well as the murder, then repackage the footage as a tourist information film, and I’ll book my plane tickets later right away! But as a thriller, this film isn’t very thrilling and it’s quite slow.
If you’re a fan of TV dramas, then you may find Black Island appealing and at the very least, picturesque. But if you’re looking for a movie filled with suspense or tension, you will need to look elsewhere.
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