wed 19/06/2024

The Woods, Netflix review - missing-person mystery reveals a heart of darkness | reviews, news & interviews

The Woods, Netflix review - missing-person mystery reveals a heart of darkness

The Woods, Netflix review - missing-person mystery reveals a heart of darkness

Harlan Coben adaptation isn't profound but it keeps viewers hooked

Warsaw prosecutor Paweł Kopiński is on a perilous search for the truth

After the success of the sci-fi crime drama 1983 (2018), another Polish original series has landed at Netflix. The Woods, directed by Leszek Dawid and Bartosz Konopka, is a six-part mystery thriller adapted from Harlan Coben’s novel, set in two main time spans: 1994 and 2019.

The story centres on the Warsaw prosecutor Paweł Kopiński (Grzegorz Damięcki), who is still grieving the loss of his sister Kamila (Martyna Byczkowska) 25 years earlier, when she walked into the woods at a summer camp and was never seen again.

In 2019, the discovery of a homicide victim – presumably Artur Perkowski, a boy who vanished along with Kamila – seems to open new, unexpected links with the events of that tragic 1994 summer. Thus, the mystery deepens and Paweł begins to hope that his sister could still be alive. His search for the truth, however, will be long and perilous. Throughout the series, the prosecutor is forced to confront the dark past of his family and to relive his traumas. University lecturer Laura Goldsztajn (Agnieszka Grochowska, pictured below with Damięcki), his first love and another participant in that cursed summer camp, helps him along the way.

The atmosphere of The Woods seems to echo another Netflix original, Baran bo Odar and Jantie Friese’s Dark, though the Polish production lacks the German series’ supernatural elements and is heavily grounded in reality. The cinematography, astonishingly beautiful and lensed by Paweł Flis, alternates powerful chiaroscuros in the night-time sequences with paler, faded tones in the everyday environments of today’s Warsaw, such as the prosecutor’s office and the university. The 1994 storyline, instead, is initially presented as “the age of innocence” through the impressive pastel colours depicting a summer camp typical of Poland’s first post-communist years.

The central mystery side, the series still manages to touch upon some societal aspects. In particular, there are hints at the different living conditions of the families attending the summer camp, the emergence of anti-Semitic prejudice towards Laura and her father and the summary investigative practices of the 1994 police, while posters, skateboards and music cassettes evoke a sense of contemporary Polish teenage life.

That being said, The Woods is far from offering profound sociological perspectives, though it’s elegantly packaged and keeps the viewer hooked. While the adaption preserves the 2007 novel’s narrative pace and plot twists, there are significant differences. For example, in Coben’s book the protagonist’s sister is thought to have been murdered by a serial killer, while the series makes clear from the start that the mystery revolves around a smaller circle of characters.

The performances of lead actors Grzegorz Damięcki and Agnieszka Grochowska, alongside their younger 1994 counterparts Hubert Milkowski (pictured right) and Wiktoria Filus, effectively portray the turbulent characters’ development, marking their transition from dreamy, carefree teenagers to troubled adults, trying to hold everything together while being forced to deal with their own miseries once and for all.

Strong supporting players include veterans Jacek Koman (Laura’s troubled father in both the 1994 and 2019 storylines), Adam Ferency (the rough, disillusioned 1994 police commissioner investigating the case) and Cezary Pazura (a hateful, corrupt television reporter challenging the prosecutor in 2019). The gripping original score masterfully underlines and amplifies the story’s mood.

Although its storytelling isn’t particularly innovative, The Woods is an absorbing piece of television, with the potential to boost the appeal of Polish productions for an international audience. 

  • The Woods is available now on Netflix


The prosecutor is forced to confront the dark past of his family and to relive his traumas


Editor Rating: 
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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