WHAT IT'S ABOUT:
Facing the end of civilisation when a terrifying plague strikes, a group risks their lives, loves – and humanity – in a brutal struggle to survive.
WHAT WE THOUGHT:
Ready for a story about a viral outbreak and a ragtag group of Russians trying to survive? To the Lake might feel a little too close to home as the real world is still fighting a pandemic, but if you don't think it will trigger an anxiety attack, this Russian series is a good exploration of how humanity survives the breakdown of society.
More of a drama than a high-stakes Walking Dead-type of show, it's always interesting to watch a familiar concept not done by Hollywood. Good Russian productions always bring intriguing insight into the human condition, and this one even bagged an official selection at last year's CannesSeries Festival.
Just don't think too hard about the fact that it was released in 2019 – a year before the Covid-19 pandemic hit.
To the Lake introduces us to a strange collection of people that at the beginning have a certain disdain for each other, but this soon changes as they battle to get to safety as a viral outbreak tears their society apart. Sergey (Kirill Käro) has to balance his responsibilities to his wife and autistic stepson and his ex-wife and their son, while Lyonya (Aleksandr Robak) deals with an alcoholic daughter and a frightful, young pregnant girlfriend. As they journey through Russia's countryside away from Moscow, they meet others that either reignite their faith in humanity, or dash it to the wayside.
At the start of the outbreak, it's a little scary how similar it is to what happened with Covid-19, although the fictional disease comes with a heftier death sentence. Masks pop up and the government implements a lockdown, which is obviously met by resistance from the populace. You might, however, get constantly anxious at the extreme lack of hand sanitisers.
But the strength of the series lies in its relationships and the genuine character development that the characters undergo, especially the bullish Lyonya and his family. I was also impressed by the depiction of Misha (Eldar Kalimulin), the Asperger's teenager, who wasn't just some stand-in as a human computer, but had agency and emotional depth not often seen in similar characters. Sergey, on the other hand, is like a labrador trying to please everyone, endearing at the beginning but frustrating later. You will find yourself rooting for some people at the beginning and by the end of the first season you would have completely flipped to another side.
There is some predictability with the story though, as some plot points seem all too familiar, and they lessen the stakes by being too afraid to kill anyone of importance off. However, there are some shockers you won't see coming, making it a very bingeable series for the weekend that will keep you hooked. The ending of season one leaves you with big questions as you hope these people can catch a break.
While To the Lake isn't some revolutionary series, it's good for the brain to watch an apocalyptic story that's not made by Americans. Hollywood can warp our sense of how the real world would react in such worst-case scenarios. Like Russia, different countries have different realities – as proven by the Covid-19 pandemic – and it will help you see how much worse this pandemic could have been.
WATCH THE TRAILER HERE: