Taut, tense and nerve-wracking, “Into the Night” is a European riff on the “End of Days” disaster movie formula that plays by the rules and rarely disappoints.
Running on wit, grit, bigotry and the national stereotypes that have riven the continent for centuries, and driven by a pulse-pounding electronic score by Photek that maintains its sense of urgency even when the script and the cast slack off, here are six episodes at around 40 minutes each that don’t waste your time.
A nightmare scenario? The plane is hijacked straight out of Brussels by an Italian (Stefano Cassetti) in a NATO uniform ranting about “sunlight means DEATH!”
The handful of people trapped on board, including a stewardess, a co-pilot, a ground crew member and a mechanic, aren’t going to Moscow. Oh no. They must flee west. WEST. Racing against the always-rising sun.
As those dozen or so on board pick up bits and pieces of confirmation that something is going on “down there,” their obstacles are made clear. Fuel, injuries, repairs, “supplies” — it’s “one problem at a time” the co-pilot (Laurent Capelluto) and his passenger fill-in assistant, downcast chopper pilot Sylvie (Pauline Etienne) reassure each other, and then the passengers, none of whom is really reassured.
As Ines, (Alba Gaïa Bellugi), the multi-lingual, mouthy young Italian “influencer” bitches onto her dormant Intagram account, “I’m gonna DIE in Scotland surrounded by Belgians!”
In French, of course, with English subtitles.
The schisms open early. Mistrust is, well, practically genetic.
The Belgian religious crank (Jan Bijvoet) mistrusts every “Muslim” on board, the Turk (Mehmet Kurtulus) in a suit knows a slur when he hears one — “Dirty Turk, gotcha.” There’s a Russian mother (Regina Bikkinina) desperate to take her little boy “home” for surgery, an Afro-Belgian home healthcare worker (Babetida Sadjo) caring for an elderly Russian, and not to be trifled with.
Who will emerge as heroes? Who will be the villains? And how much screen time will we waste while the climate researcher German (Vincent Londez) tries to explain what’s happening with his “science?”
Not a lot, and that’s a good thing about this series, where all six episodes are titled after a character and begin with a prologue. As formula dictates, everybody here has “a secret,” a troubling character flaw, a hole in her or his past to make us question motives even as they show us inner resources when the chips are down.
“Into the Night” dodges the trap of sci-fi disaster tales like “Snowpiercer.” There’s no real time for “factions” to form, for anybody to truly size up who they can trust. The timespan in Jason Georg’se (he wrote several “Scandal” episodes) adaptation of the novel “The Old Axolotl” is just a week or so.
The ticking-clock that underscores many a thriller is only evident in the landing-refueling stops this Belgian airliner has to make. Gas is always a worry, as is what they’ll find when they land to get it. It’s a different race against the clock every touchdown.
The in-flight debates, “one problem at a time” solving, etc., are slower. But as we get to know the cast, this flagging pace is less of an issue than it might have been.
If there’s a flaw to it, I’d say not letting it maintain the compactness that head-down/work-the-next-problem storytelling demands. Yeah, it’s open-ended.
But there’s mordant humor, most present in the early episodes, that carries the day. The co-pilot clinging to “sorry for the inconvenience” corporate messaging too long, his troubled fill-in co-pilot Sylvie’s admission that “I drank a bottle of vodka” before boarding, and the Black woman as truth-teller, sizing up every quarrel on board with a quip.
“Just a buncha white men whining that they can’t control things…for once!”
MPAA Rating: TV-MA, violence, sex, profanity
Cast: Pauline Etienne, Laurent Capelluto, Stefano Cassetti, Mehmet Kurtulus, Babetida Sadjo, Regina Bikkinina, Jan Bijvoet, Alba Gaïa Bellugi, Ksawery Szlenkier, Nabil Mallat and Vincent Londez
Credits: Created by Jason George, based on the novel “The Old Axolotl” by Jacek Dukaj. A Netflix release.
Running time: 6 episodes, 37-40 minutes each