How many shows can viewers name that combine folklore, doppelgangers, erupting volcanoes, and attempt to package them in a drama about grief and relationships? Katla is that show premiering on Netflix and it’s the most unusual series that this writer has ever attempted to critique.
The series, based in Iceland, aims to capture the magic of shows like Dark, offering sci-fi elements with an engaging mystery to keep the audience bingeing every episode.
And while Katla does carry some of that strangeness that made that show intriguing, the series is an entirely different flavor of program.
Should viewers stream Katla on Netflix? Here is our thoughts on the Icelandic sci-fi drama.
Created by Sigurjón Kjartansson and Baltasar Kormákur, the Netflix series Katla centers around a group of individuals in the town of Vik. When the story begins it is made clear that the town of Vik was hit by a volcanic eruption in the past year.
With the town mostly empty, the few remaining citizens who have decided to stay in Vik are there for a purpose. Some are there to assist in the hospital, some are there to study the Katla volcano, and others are there to run businesses--such as a hotel and a car garage.
As the small town is recovering, an unusual event comes crawling from the direction of the volcano. A mysterious naked lady cloaked in ash and clay is found walking alone from the direction of Katla.
Once she is rescued, the frail and hypothermic woman reveals her identity. It is soon discovered that someone connected to the town shares her name. More strange, the other person is 20 years older than the rescued survivor--and they look almost identical.
And as the story unfolds, more mysterious doppelgangers and fallen loved ones rise from the ashes of Katla.
As this concept is introduced, it’s hard to unpack the rules of how everything works. At one point, it almost suggests Katla works similarly to Pet Semetary, as a character buries a crow in ash only for a similar bird to reappear a day later. But then people who have never been dead or covered in Katla’s ash get their own duplicate moments later.
This could be the intention of the creatives, to leave things ambiguous so that the metaphorical implications take the forefront of the viewers’ minds. These offerings from the Katla volcano are not meant to have straight forward explanations but instead psychological ones.
Katla can be perceived as an extremely dark grounded fairytale involving a village having to confront their grief through a magical mountain. Each person Katla mimics has historical significance to its characters--whether it is someone who died, disappeared, or simply moved away from Vik entirely. The magical purpose behind the strange occurrence becomes more clear as these duplicates (or changelings as the show calls them) face their families or themselves.
That said, viewers need to keep in mind the series lacks any fairy tale fluff. This is an extremely somber show and sometimes to a fault. Everything from the atmosphere, the location, the music, and the conversations are communicated with such seriousness. On top of this, the characters rarely smile or even convey a glimpse of happiness. A smidge of levity would have helped throughout the eight-episode experience.
Adding to this, the narrative is constructed in the form of a slow burn and paces itself on giving reveals. Combined with the gloominess of the characters themselves, the effort to make it through some episodes can become rather tedious at times. This is a series that might best be viewed one episode at a time rather than a binging experience.
Despite the excessively brooding tone of Katla, one has to admire the ambition on display here. With every studio and streaming service trying to buy familiar intellectual properties (Sandman, Lord of the Rings), Katla is at least swinging for originality. It may not land with much excitement but the exploration of loss is extremely authentic in terms of trauma and how it hinders relationships.
It should also be said that patience is indeed rewarded as the show approaches its finale. The final shot alone is haunting and leaves room for an intriguing set up for Season 2. It’s just an uphill climb to arrive at this point.
Should you stream Katla on Netflix?
Katla has a lot on its mind regarding the subjects of grief and trauma. It dissects said topics creatively through the form of a grounded sci-fi fairy tale and should be applauded for its attempt at giving streamers something fresh.
Originality aside, Katla can be a tedious binge and might be too much of a slow burn for some. The combination of having almost everyone being sad and the writing having gradual unraveling of its mysteries prevents it from being a fast watch.
The talent and creativity is absolutely on display but for all its ambition, Katla is hard to recommend.
Katla is now streaming on Netflix.