TV/DVD review: The Out-laws

out-laws_dvdThe Out-laws has been the surprise subtitled TV hit of the summer, and it was released on DVD this week by Arrow Films. Four sisters conspire to kill the psychopath husband of a fifth sister. The series opens at his funeral, and over the course of ten episodes we find out what actually happened, how and why.

The heart of humdrum Flemish suburbia is the setting for this black comi-drama, which is a kind of Dag meets Harlan Coben’s The Five. As in the latter, we enter a world of extremely close-knit relationships, in which our protagonists would do almost anything for each other.

The ordinariness of the surroundings are a theme throughout. We’ve previously met plenty of screen characters just as evil as husband Jean-Claude, who happily wrecks entire lives without a second thought, but it’s the mainly casual and pointless nature of his abuse (though there is some systematic abuse too just for good measure) that makes him stand out. No line is too dark for him to cross. And there is no charm to take the edge from his joyless rottenness. Indeed, the only odd note is that it has taken so long for the sisters to conspire together. We are all rooting for this monster to get his comeuppance – but the sisters are unaffected when innocent bystanders are caught in the crossfire and that ambivalence raises some interesting moral questions. Among those caught up in the sisters’ plots are two brothers who are insurance agents: they are desperate to find the truth in order to save their business but this becomes slightly more problematic once one of the brothers becomes romantically linked with one of the sisters. This is mined for farce but there are also points where the series as a whole hinges on their dalliance.

I binge-watched the series and I wonder if following it week-by-week might have been a different experience. By the middle the episodes feel slightly formulaic: Jean-Claude is appalling, a sister comes on board, they plot, the plot goes wrong because of some farcical reason, someone else suffers. The farce is excellent, but you know it’s coming. Watching week-by-week this would not have been a problem, but binge-watchers may feel this might have been tighter with one or two fewer episodes, or as a film. But in any case, the series is worth sticking with, for each of the sisters has a journey to watch, and the ending is satisfying in emotional and narrative terms. Many black comedies can seem cynical at times and it is The Out-laws’ redemption that this is more than balanced by a sense of warmth – a warmth that is, in turn, never clichéd or cheesy (this is the Nordic Noir and Beyond label, after all).

Much enjoyed, with strong performances throughout, but a special shoutout to Dirk Roofthooft who is compelling as the disgusting brother-in-law. I wonder if he needed counselling afterwards?

The Out-laws is available on Arrow Films’ Nordic Noir and Beyond label.

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