There are too many international YA Netflix shows to count. Did you know We Are the Wave, about the stirrings of anti-fascist political rebellion in Germany, premiered earlier this month? Or that The Club, an MDMA-powered accidental crime soap, dropped last week? Mortel, which debuted Thursday, November 21, is the newest teen show to hit the internet’s most beloved streaming service.
Unlike the handful of recent international gems that have hit Netflix, you can’t let Mortel — whose title translates to “deadly” in English — slip through the cracks of your queue. The moment you understand what the six-episode French-language horror-adventure romp is about, you’ll understand why.
Mortel’s series premiere, “Super Bad,” sets up the premise in just under 50 minutes (in a world where episodes are ballooning to 90-minute sagas, that’s a blessing). It’s a supernatural coming-of-age story with a murder mystery foundation. So it’s a little bit Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, a little bit Riverdale, and very, very French.
Season 1 revolves around Sofiane (Carl Malapa), a troubled teen who is acting out more than usual. The root of his bad behavior is grief following the alleged “disappearance” of his older brother Reda (Sami Outalbali, coming to Sex Education season 2). Everyone is acting like Reda ran away from home, but Sofiane knows better — Sofiane knows something terrible happened to his brother.
Sofiane’s worst fears are confirmed four months after Reda vanished. One night a towering being with glowing red goggles and burning tear stain marks on his face comes to Sofiane. The boy believed someone had been following him — now he knows the identity his stalker is much worse than he could have imagined. The mystery man is Obé (Corentin Fila), some sort of otherworldly creature. A bit of eventual internet sleuthing informs Sofiane that Obé is a god in the voodoo practice.
Sofiane’s meetings with Obé over “Super Bad” escalate quickly. In the first encounter, Obé, a ferrier of souls between this realm and the next, uses a vision to show Sofiane that he is carrying the murdered spirit of Reda around with him. The identity of Reda’s killer is unclear. Obé tells Sofiane that if he wants to save even a piece of his brother, he has to meet him the next day with another person in tow. The unlucky individual must be someone whose death wouldn’t be a surprise.
Victor (Némo Schiffman), a fellow student who recently attempted death by suicide, is the person Sofiane chooses. The next day Obé demands Sofiane kill either Victor or himself. The question of why Obé demands another soul is one of the underlying puzzles of Mortel.
The major aim of the series then arrives when Sofiane is unable to commit either of the killings Obé requires. Instead, Sofiane pledges to murder his brother’s unknown killer, thereby satiating his own vengeful bloodlust and giving Obé the soul he desires. Of course, Sofiane is interested in this deal. Victor must be convinced, since he has no personal investment in Sofiane, a boy who is not exactly his friend, or Reda, whom he seemingly knew. Since Mortel needs a plot, Victor is convinced for reasons unveiled over “Super Bad.”
While all of this dangerous supernatural business is unraveling, Mortel checks in often with Luisa (Manon Bresch), a third student at Sofiane and Victor’s school. While the boys know nothing of voodoo, Luisa is a budding expert. Her grandmother is known to be a priestess, and Luisa shows abilities of her own while trying to control a possessed man named Hervé (Stéphane Brel) at the beginning of “Super Bad.” Luisa is clearly the key to helping Sofiane and Victor on their mission — if only she had a reason to care about it…
The end of Mortel’s premiere proves Sofiane and Victor are seriously going to need Luisa’s guidance and support. Through a blood sacrifice, the boys promise to commit one murder for Obé. In return, he gives them supernatural powers to complete their quest. Supernatural powers from a dubious godlike creature always come with terrible consequences. Sofiane’s new gifts are the ones that have already been highly publicized, since he can mind control other people’s bodies. It’s a talent that looks great in a trailer. However, it’s Victor’s new ability that will truly help the pair track down the killer in their midst (it’s revealed in second episode, “Hot. Hot. Hot.”).
So strap on your fiery goggles, it's going to be a very wild six-chapter ride.