Over the course of the last year, the horror streaming service Shudder has truly distinguished itself in the eyes of horror fans. Rather than just featuring any and all kinds of genre fare, Shudder has carefully curated its selections to appeal to horror fans looking for something a little different. It’s not a surprise that their first original property would be something that attains the same high quality standards the fans of the service have come to expect. It also premieres on the same day that Shudder Canada is launched.
Beyond The Walls is a French language three-part miniseries that is part drama, part ghost story, and part science fiction. If that sounds like a strange mixture of genres, it is, but it’s also one that works quite well, especially in the television miniseries format.
Lisa (Veerle Baetens) is a speech therapist who works with children in a hospital setting. She wears a wedding ring but she isn’t married, using the jewelry as an excuse to avoid socializing with her coworkers at their weekly “Girls Night.” She is also frequently troubled by dreams of standing in a lake while someone or something struggles in the water in the distance.
Lisa just moved to a new apartment and can’t help but be intrigued by what looks like activity in the seemingly abandoned house across the street. As it turns out, her curiosity is not without merit. The dead body of the house’s resident, André-René Bainville, is discovered soon after, but what makes the situation even more morbid is that he died 30 years earlier. Soon Lisa gets an unexpected phone call from Mr. Bainville’s lawyer: the deceased has bequeathed the house to her in his will, something which is puzzling since Lisa never knew the man. Still, the house is much bigger than her apartment, so she packs up some of her things and moves in.
It doesn’t take long for strange things to start happening. There is peeling wallpaper in one room, which covers up a kind of Rorschach inkblot pattern on the walls, as well as something else. Lisa hears the cries of a little girl and scratching noises coming from the other side of the wall. She decides to bust down the wall with a sledgehammer. Things get even more bizarre when she discovers there are hidden rooms and hallways beyond the walls and that she is not alone. Besides a man named Julien (François DeBlock) there are some residents who are more malevolent, the ones who Julien refers to as “The Others.”
The acting in Beyond The Walls is top-notch. Baertens imbues Lisa with both vulnerability and strength. Her character arc is compelling, while her relationship with Julien develops organically. Geraldine Chaplin portrays the mysterious Rose, someone who is both an ally and a threat; with her pulled back hair and high-necked black gown, she is reminiscent of the ballet instructor in Livide. Thanks to excellent practical effects and makeup, The Others are genuinely creepy and threatening, more like zombies or aliens than straight-up monsters.
At times, Beyond The Walls feels inspired by video games like Silent Hill or Resident Evil. They both share the same first person POV quality. Characters wander through shadowy rooms and hallways, places where there might be a threatening presence around every corner. Yet the series also has the look of classic ghost or haunted house stories; the decaying, dusty furniture and preponderance of candles along with the color palette of deep reds, golden brown, and amber all combine to give Beyond The Walls a vintage patina.
Some things are explained by the end of the series. For example, you will find out why Lisa is plagued by dreams, why Bainville left the house to her, and who The Others truly are. Yet it’s not as simple as it might seem when reading this review. Beyond The Walls has a distinctive time loop paradox within, one that is also reminiscent of classic French science fiction film La Jetée (which inspired Terry Gilliam’s 12 Monkeys). There are hidden connections between characters which are eventually revealed, and these, along with the characters’ troubled pasts, give the show an emotional heft that allows it to progress beyond mere pastiche or homage.
While there are many high-quality horror and science fiction shows on television and streaming services right now, ranging from satirical to scary, Beyond The Walls is unique in that it doesn’t traffic in nostalgia or already existing franchises. If you are looking for thought-provoking, original horror, Beyond The Walls is worth watching.