Why Netflix’s Into the Night should be your next box set
Ivan Radford | On 17, May 2020
“If we don’t get out of here, the sunrise will kill as all.” Those are the immortal words that set Netflix’s Into the Night in motion – and they set the tone for a ludicrous thriller.
Inspired by Jacek Dukaj’s sci-fi novel The Old Axolotl, the Belgian apocalyptic series introduces us to a world where – yes – the sun is about to wipe out the human race. Not as in climate change, or the eventual collision of the gigantic gas ball with our planet, but actual sunlight shining on the Earth right now. And so, as people start to keel over with the gradual spread of sunrise across the globe, one plucky airplane full of passengers find themselves racing through the night sky trying to keep one wing ahead of destruction.
The thought of a global disaster story might not sound like comforting viewing, but there’s something oddly reassuring about a global disaster story that’s both fictional and utterly ridiculous. This is the kind of series where people issue dramatic ultimatums every 10 minutes, where people try to land a plane by following a YouTube tutorial and where the title of the programme is said just before the end credits of the opening episode.
Our central ensemble are a rag-tag bunch of international types, and each come with their own unseen baggage that they can’t hide away in hold for ever. Front and centre is Sylvie (Pauline Etienne), a former military pilot who recently lost her partner, Rik (Jan Bijvoet), a security guard, Laura (Babetida Sadjo), a care worker, Jakub (Ksawery Szlenkier), who’s good with mechanical engineering, Zara (Regina Bikkinina), a mother who’s travelling to Moscow with her son, Dominic, to secure life-saving medical help, Ines (Alba Gaïa Bellugi), a social media influencer, and Ayaz (Mehmet Kurtuluş), who’s mostly there to spark suspicion.
Attempting to keep them all calm are Mathieu (Laurent Capelluto), the co-pilot on the flight, and Gabrielle (Astrid Whettnall), a flight attendant. Stopping them from keeping calm is Terenzio (Stéfano Cassetti), a NATO officer who forces his way on to the plane and orders them to take off at gunpoint – after overhearing the horror of the situation at work. The news gradually spreads through the plane, and people’s back-stories come to light, some of them criminal, some of them morally dubious, and it’s not long until they all start to judge each other for whatever misdeeds they may or may not have done.
These are all standard elements for disaster stories, as microcosms of society are put under strain. But there’s something rather sweet in the underlying them of people needing to stop judging others based on stereotypes and start trusting them instead to survive. And, thanks to the six-episode running time, there’s more room than in your normal disaster movie to flesh out each person to something more than just their stock type.
They each have their own class prejudices, their own religious beliefs and their own motivations, but they also have their own skills and experiences. Ines, for example, isn’t just a one-joke background character, while Mathieu moves from safe pair of hands in a uniform to a fragile man susceptible to guilt and anxiety. The star of the show is undoubtedly Sylvie, though, and Pauline Etienne does a brilliant job of not only navigating grief, and a possible new romantic interest, but also the overall crisis; told she wasn’t suitable for leadership by the military, she proves time and time again that she’s resourceful, resilient and calm.
Creator Jason George doesn’t let any of that slow things down, though, and Into the Night’s biggest strength is the sheer speed at which it all unfolds. With each episode clocking in closer to 30 minutes than an hour, the series rockets along, taking us from refuelling and attempting to land safely to wondering whether the food has had its DNA reshuffled or debating whether the group should be a dictatorship or democracy. And did we mention that YouTube tutorial?
Directors Inti Calfat and Dirk Verheye keep everything just believable enough to keep the tension high, even as the often unsubtle dialogue hits every cliche possible; the scale of the destruction is kept mostly off-screen, so that what is shown can be rendered convincingly enough, and the cast are never less than committed to even the silliest of plot twists and turns.
The result is a wonderfully gripping tale of survival that – most surprising of all – does actually have somewhere to go after its intriguing finale. For these events, while inspired by The Old Axolotl, are just the prologue to the novel’s main text, which could take the whole thing in an unexpected new direction of technology and humanity. Even if the show continued to plough the same furrow, though, that’d be no bad thing. This thriller might be ludicrous, but it’s never less than ludicrously entertaining. Expect a second season to be announced in a matter of days.
Into the Night is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription.