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Review: Netflix’s ‘1899’ – High Tension and Suspense

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1899 is a suspenseful new offering on Netflix from German director Baran bo Odar, who created and directed Dark also on the streaming service. Dark ran for three seasons and was considered a critical success in almost every aspect of the series.

It has been just about two years since Dark reached its satisfying conclusion and Odar is back with another series that has a similar tone. So is 1899 another hit for Netflix? Let’s climb aboard and set sail as we explore what Netflix’s 1899 has to offer.

[Warning: Spoilers from Netflix’s 1899 are below!]

Netflix’s 1899 journeys across the ocean

The show follows the passengers of the steamship Kerberos as it makes its way across the Atlantic to New York City. Four months previously the steamship Prometheus was mysteriously lost at sea by the same shipping company. Unexpectedly, the Kerberos begins to receive a transmission from the ship Prometheus.

The transmission is simply a set of coordinates repeated over and over again. The captain of the Kerberos decides to detour to the new coordinates to look for survivors. But when they arrive the Prometheus is empty. That’s when things really get weird.

Suspense is the word

Baran bo Odar places screws on the viewer early and just keeps tightening them more and more as the show progresses. There are multiple little things that seem off, from the way people respond to repeating patterns, numbers, and shapes to eerie background violins and music that keep you constantly on edge.

The truly masterful aspect is that Baran bo Odar doesn’t siphon off any of this tension with cheap jump scares. He just keeps the tension turned to 11 the whole time. 

Netflix's 1899 crew
LtR: Emily Beecham, Isaak Dentler, Andreas Pietschmann, Niklas Maienschein, Tino Mewes. 1899 (Netflix).

Little clues to the larger mystery are scattered like breadcrumbs throughout the episodes but it’s not quite enough to construct a whole picture of what is going on. There is a very Shutter Island-esque feel to the way the series is presented.

The main character, Maura (Emily Beecham), is on the Kerberos hoping to find information about the Prometheus and her brother, whom she believes was onboard and had important information to tell her. She teams with captain Eyk Larsen (Andreas Pietschmann) to investigate the ship Prometheus once it is found.

However the more they find out the less they understand. And understand it, they must, because whatever happened on the Prometheus isn’t over and it’s coming for the Kerberos next. Discovering the truth may be their only way to survive.

Multiple threads and lots of secrets in 1899

Maura has plenty of secrets she’s hiding. So does Captain Larsen. But it turns out that everyone on the Kerberos is hiding something. They are all running away from something or running towards something. And their presence on the Kerberos has clearly been manipulated by someone.

1899 also has a ton of different characters to keep straight. There are no less than 15 important characters to follow, perhaps, even more, depending on just who you count as important. Each of these people has a complicated backstory that is revealed a little at a time as the story progresses.

Many of them are more connected than they initially seem. These connections become important as events progress but just why these particular people are brought together remains elusive.

Variety of languages creates an authentic feel

One of the really interesting (for me) but potentially off-putting (for some) aspects is the huge variety of languages spoken during 1899. I may not be 100% correct but I believe that English, French, German, Dutch, Spanish, Japanese, and Chinese are all spoken.

There may be others but since I don’t speak that many, I can’t be sure. All of these different languages are subtitled for those who don’t speak seven or more languages. It gave the show a very authentic feel. After all, English language speakers are used to watching shows where all the non-English characters still speak English, even if everyone in the scene is ESL.

Netflix's 1899 Cast
LtR: Jonas Bloquet, Mathilde Ollivier, Rosalie Craig, José Pimentão, Miguel Bernardeau, Gabby Wong, Isabella Wei. 1899 (Netflix).

This was a specially poignant choice since the Kerberos is a trans-Atlantic steamer ship filled with immigrants in 1899. Most of the passengers wouldn’t have spoken English. It created a more believable world to hear people conversing in their own languages. It also caused more tension between characters as the different groups cannot understand each other and have to rely on facial expressions and hand signals to try and communicate, hoping the message gets across.

So all of these different people who are hiding various secrets and can’t understand each other are thrown together in a contained environment with ever-increasing tension and no escape. Things get incredibly tense, to say the least.

And the closer Maura and Eyk come to uncovering the truth behind the Prometheus and the Kerberos, the closer the entire group comes to an explosive showdown. When there is this much pressure something has to give, the only question is what and who will go first. It promises to be a great show once they do.

Netflix’s 1899 is an awesome show, but not for everyone

1899 is a really great mystery show. Baran bo Odar uses story, music, and sets to increase the suspense so masterfully and keep it at an incredibly high level. You just keep waiting for a release but it doesn’t come and it’s amazing!

It’s also noteworthy with such a big cast that all the characters end up feeling really well-rounded and three-dimensional through the course of the show. 

Of course, it’s not for everyone. If you aren’t someone who can handle suspense or a slowly building story you won’t like it. And obviously, if subtitles bother you then you won’t enjoy this much. Although if that’s your only reason to not watch I recommend powering through, it’s worth it.

People who like to let a show run while they goof off on their phones will quickly become lost. You absolutely have to pay attention to the show in order to enjoy it.

So the big takeaway is that 1899 is worth watching. It is one of the best non-English offerings on Netflix. Discovering what happened to the Prometheus and what is happening on the Kerberos will happily occupy a week of your time (or a day if you can’t wait). The only thing I really know right now is that finding the truth is the most important thing any of the passengers can do.

1899’s eight-episode first season is rated TV-MA and drops on Netflix on November 17.  Will you be checking it out when it drops on the streaming service? Let us know on Twitter @LunaGauthier19 or @MyCosmicCircus. And if you haven’t already, check out our review of the premiere of another hit that is about to have its season finale, Interview With The Vampire!

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Luna Gauthier

I've always been a bookworm and fantasy is my favortie genre. I never imagined (okay, I imagined but I didn't think) that I could get those books sent to me for just my opinion. Now I am a very happy bookworm! @Lunagauthier19 on Twitter

Luna Gauthier has 228 posts and counting. See all posts by Luna Gauthier