The most disturbing images in “The Break,” a murder mystery set in the tiny Belgian town of Heiderfeld, have nothing to do with blood or gore. They are of trees.
Heiderfeld is in the Ardennes, a hilly, wooded area in the southeastern part of the country, and “The Break” takes advantage of that setting with numerous aerial shots of the forest. Images of the dense canopy initially mesmerize with their natural beauty. But it doesn’t take long for these shots to inspire unease, as viewers realize it’s only the superficial they’re seeing, distracting from what’s going on below, hidden from view.
David Lynch also used portentous shots of trees in his seminal series “Twin Peaks,” and it’s clear “The Break,” a 10-episode series on Netflix, has been influenced by that show. Though it’s bleaker and more workmanlike in tone – and lacks Lynch’s trademark surreal panache – “The Break” also centers on a small community brimming with transgressive secrets, a place where the patina of normalcy masks bizarre and lethal conspiracies that come to light via a dead body.
In “Twin Peaks,” it’s the death of Laura Palmer that sets Agent Dale Cooper’s investigation into motion. In “The Break,” Driss Assani’s mangled body is found in a river, and it’s up to Inspector Yoann Peeters (Yoann Blanc) to find out how he ended up there. Turns out Assani (Jérémy Zagba), who came from the Africa to play for the local soccer club, was mixed up with all sorts of questionable people. Peeters soon is chasing down leads that include poisoned cows, an underground sex club and strange symbols carved into trees.
An intense and melancholy presence, Blanc’s Peeters only recently arrived in Heiderfeld, but he’s familiar with the village, having lived there as a teenager. His last post was in Brussels, and he’s more sophisticated than his backwoods colleagues, who insist that Assani’s death is a suicide. But as the show reveals, Peeters has returned to his hometown – with his teenage daughter Camille (Sophie Breyer) in tow – because of personal and professional setbacks that influence his work on the case.
As in “Twin Peaks,” dreams play a major role in “The Break,” and many episodes open with different characters having them. These sequences, often shocking and graphic, usually telegraph an unexpected connection to Assani. They’re effective in creating suspense, as are time shifts to the future that show Peeters in a hospital being interviewed by a psychiatrist. Did he suffer some kind of psychotic break during the investigation? You’ll have to watch to find out.
Ten episodes streaming on Netflix. With subtitles.