Review – Black Snow [Mini-Series]

Small towns often come with big secrets, and in the new Stan Original crime-thriller, Black Snow, these secrets will be hidden at the cost of a young life.

In 1994, in a South Sea Islander community of far North Queensland, high schooler Isabel Baker (Talijah Blackman-Corowa), went missing on the night of her formal. After an inconclusive investigation, the presumption of her death rocks the community, but even more so, her religious family. The hardest hit by the news of Isabel’s death is her sister, Hazel (played in the 1994 timeline by Molly Fotnowna), who suspects that her sister was murdered by someone within the town.

25 years later, in 2019, Brisbane-based cold case detective James Cormack (Travis Fimmel, Vikings) is called to the scene of the crime after a time capsule that reveals a cryptic letter from Isabel about ‘predators that look like friends’ is read out in front of the town. With Cormack beginning his investigation in a town that doesn’t trust outsiders, he works hard to gain the trust of Hazel (played in 2019 by Jemmason Power) to find out the truth within a deep and disturbing web of lies that has haunted this small town for decades.

Created by Lucas Taylor, Black Snow has a daunting task ahead of itself. Not only does the primary storyline set in 2019 following Cormack and Hazel attempting to discover the truth behind Isabel’s death, but in the 1994 timeline, Isabel herself is entangled in a mystery that plays out simultaneously, drip feeding information to the audience about both mysteries in both timelines.

Where Taylor’s story and scripts really succeed in making an enormous task of parallel mysteries work well together, is by having fully realised and fleshed out characters. Black Snow deals with a lot of people, and while it is predominantly the same characters set in two different times, many of these characters are completely different comparatively, based on how they were involved or affected by Isabel’s death in 1994.

For most of Black Snow, Taylor weaves the characters and narratives into each other with relative ease. Each timeline is paced well and pops in and out of the overall story enough that it does feel like each complete story is told and told well. There is a lot of depth in the 1994 story that sets a strong foundation for the characters and the reveals that occur in both 1994 and 2019, letting every cliff hanger and shocking moment feel truly earned. It is also the direction of Sian Davies (episodes 1-3) and Matthew Saville (episodes 4-6) that does a brilliant job of using unique visual styles for each timeline to make the story as accessible as possible.

There are a few subsidiary characters who come and go throughout the series that can feel like they blend in with the masses or are just used as red herrings for the murder mystery itself. However, the main players within Black Snow are intricately written into an engaging story, which makes for gripping television.

Of the characters who have a great affect on the story, it is Jemmason Power as 2019 Hazel who steals the show. Hazel is a strong character, but she is someone who has been forced into a position of strength in order to protect herself and her family after Isabel’s death. As more is revealed about her childhood, it becomes obvious that Power’s performance and all its nuance is outstanding for an actress who has this series as her first acting credit. Power also holds her own against Travis Fimmel as the two often go back-and-forth in a game of “can I trust you?” throughout the first few episodes of the show.

Fimmel anchors the show with an all-in acting performance as Cormack. Fimmel’s unhinged, yet passionate detective character opens Black Snow with a shocking moment that will undoubtedly hook audiences, leaving a taste in the mouth of needing to know where the hell that thing goes later in the story.

There’s a physicality in Fimmel’s performance that balances a line of someone who is sympathetic to the victims of the crime’s he investigates, and the people who are affected by it. But, as all good detectives who desire to find the truth and justice, there is a tenacity to Cormack that conveys that he will do whatever it takes to find the answers, no matter how close to danger or death he may come.

Alexander England is a great example of telling immense details of his character by doing, not just talking. England as 2019 Anton, who dated Isabel back in 1994, is a broken man by what happened 25 years earlier and has turned to alcohol to deal with the pain. However, as more is revealed about Anton’s relationships within his family, the subtle turmoil in just a look or mannerism from England speaks volumes about Anton before we as an audience even find out what made him the man he is in 2019.

Black Snow’s setting of far North Queensland gives the show elements that truly help it stick out from the array of crime-thriller’s that populate our streaming platforms. The location is a truly visually unique location with crops, fields and waterways that hold beauty unlike anywhere else in the world, and directors Sian Davies and Matthew Saville do a brilliant job of capturing the beauty.

But they also film this series in a way that gives off a feeling that darkness can be hidden in the beauty of it all. The overwhelming sense of dread that fills the atmosphere of this small, regional town is felt from the first shot, and hangs around until the final seconds.

However, the most incredible element of being set in a South Sea Islander community is the representation shown with in the cast, and the culture on screen. Expressed by actors Jemmason Power and Molly Fotnowna in an interview I conducted with them, the representation within the show is accurately reflective of how they felt making the show. The importance of cultural immersion was paramount on set, and that is felt on screen.

Australia has always done crime-thrillers incredibly well, and Black Snow is no exception. With two solid mysteries unravelling simultaneously over two different time periods, it’s quiet a feat that creator Lucas Taylor has constructed the show in a way that never feels convoluted, and always is engaging. Led by brilliant performances from Travis Fimmel, Jemmason Power and Alexander England, Black Snow is a heavy watch, but a rewarding one at that.

Black Snow will premiere all 6 episodes on New Year’s Day, exclusively on Stan.

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Nick L'Barrow
Nick L'Barrow
Nick is a Brisbane-based film/TV reviewer. He gained his following starting with his 60 second video reviews of all the latest releases on Instagram (@nicksflicksfix), before launching a monthly podcast with Peter Gray called Monthly Movie Marathon. Nick contributes to Novastream with interviews and reviews for the latest blockbusters.

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