Crime mysteries. War-zone satire. Coming-of-age dramas. Romantic comedies. Twisted thrillers. Cop actioners. In its first couple of years, Walter Presents has amassed an impressively diverse library of TV shows from countries all over the world. But one area the foreign-language TV service hasn’t really ventured into is horror. That changes with its latest acquisition, Tabula Rasa.
The series is a psychological thriller that follows Mie (Veerle Baetens), a woman who suffers from amnesia. When a man called Thomas Spectre goes missing, and she turns out to be the last person seen with him, though, her memories become more important than ever. Visited by Detective Inspector Wolkers, she becomes a key witness in the stranger disappearance, leaving Mie to start to piece together her recollections of the recent past.
So far, so standard for a missing-person TV mystery, but Tabula Rasa is far from your typical box set, playing out closer to the BBC and Netflix’s recent Requiem than Top of the Lake. That becomes apparent from the very first episode, which immediately throws everything we might cling to for guidance into uncertainty: Mie, we learn, is staying in a psychiatric hospital, and won’t be released until Thomas is found.
Creator Malin-Sarah Gozin, who gave us one of Walter Presents’ best series, The Out-Laws (Clan in its home country), has already demonstrated her eye for a certain level of darkness, but she flexes her muscles brilliantly here, throwing all kinds of unsettling images at the screen, from red powder plummeting out of the ceiling to sinister figures in hallways – if you thought the psychiatrical hospital was concerning, wait until you see the apparently haunted house where she lives with her partner.
How much of this are real flashbacks? How much is all made up in her own head? The title is translated as “blank slate”, which gives you an idea of how much clarity to expect from the initial chapters. (The good news is that there are nine hours to wind your way through the unfolding questions and unsettling mood.)
All that atmosphere, of course, would have little effect if it weren’t centred on a compelling figure, and that’s the cornerstone on which Tabula Rasa builds its intriguing puzzle box of eeriness. That is thanks to Veerle Baetens, who you may recognise from the Oscar nominee The Broken Circle Breakdown. She delivered a heart-wrenchingly brilliant turn in that hugely moving folk music drama, and she’s just as good here, managing to turn what is essentially an internalised drama into something engaging. Baetens co-wrote the script with Gozin, which helps to bind the show intrinsically to her ambiguous presence; we slowly see her mistrust in everyone, everything and herself start to grow.
The result is visually striking, superbly performed and beautifully evocative in its use of location and tone, crafting a show that’s at once horror as well as thriller. After Professor T, 13 Commandments, Cordon, The Out-Laws and Salamander, it’s a compelling case for Belgium’s growing clout on the global TV scene. Whether the country will ever challenge Scandi-Noir for popularity is yet to be seen, but Tabula Rasa is undoubtedly proof that its unique cultural output is only good news for Walter Presents’ increasingly diverse library. Long may that continue.
Episode 1 of Tabula Rasa will be broadcast at 10pm on Sunday 6th May on Channel 4, with the whole box set available on All 4 straight after.