Despite the large volume of content being produced by the streaming platform, it is perhaps not very common to find a Netflix mystery thriller drama series that truly excites and disturbs to the core. The new German series Dear Child, or Liebes Kind, is one such rare find that makes viewers breeze through its six episodes while feeling puzzled, heartbroken, and then moved by its end. Based on a psychological thriller novel, also named Dear Child, by Romy Hausmann, the series follows the story of a woman who manages to escape cruel captivity along with her young daughter. With commendable pacing, crisp editing, and a narrative that always keeps one hooked, Dear Child is very easy to recommend to fans of the mystery thriller genre.
Dear Child‘s plot follows Lena, a young woman who is also the mother of two young children, Hannah and Jonathan. But unlike any normal mother, Lena is forced to live in a situation of great danger, for the woman is kept trapped inside a bunker-like house along with the children. Every action that the three perform throughout the day is monitored and controlled by the perpetrator, who has fixed a strict and inhumane routine for them to follow. The three are given food only at very few fixed times of the day, which is clearly not enough for their well-being, and the opportunity to use the toilet is also kept restricted.
Lena is often humiliated and assaulted in the most horrific and brutal manner whenever she misses some rule or when the perpetrator wishes to do so. As can be expected, the mother and the children are never allowed to leave their house, and they have no connections with the outside world whatsoever. Even in the utmost emergency situations, like when the air conditioning of the boxed-up house goes wrong, the three are made to stay inside, almost killing them out of suffocation. The children know nothing of normal life, as they are home-schooled by their mother and are groomed by the perpetrator to become normalized and accustomed to the torture. As it happens, the perpetrator is the children’s father and Lena’s husband, who keeps his family members trapped as his pets.
Amidst such a situation, Lena suddenly finds a chance to escape the house one night, along with young Hannah, and the woman grabs this opportunity with both hands. But she is then found horribly injured in a car crash and has to be rushed to the hospital’s emergency ward. As Lena receives treatment, Hannah makes acquaintance with a nurse, who immediately finds the girl to be rather strange. Local police detective Aida Kurt starts to investigate the accident when matters grow more suspicious and sinister. Hannah claims that her mother hurt her father before leaving the house. There are then suspicions that Lena is hiding something grave, too, and that the woman is not really who she is claiming to be. When Aida finally starts to intricately look into the matter, more horrible secrets stumble out one after another.
The most exciting aspect of Dear Child is definitely the plot, and the series very self-consciously puts the most focus on this very element. There is always a strong air of mystery, confusion, and suspense as deep and disturbing revelations are made in every episode. The German thriller is truly one such show that might be difficult not to binge-watch, as viewers are always kept guessing about what the real truth is. The biggest question obviously remains about who the perpetrator is, since we are never shown his face or body properly until the very last episode, where his identity is revealed. There are plenty of suspects thrown around, too, as none of them are directly mentioned by the police, but there is something strange to note about all of them.
Along with the plot, the characters and their motivations are also very convincing here, with their pains and struggles quite well portrayed. During the same time when Lena receives treatment at the hospital, an elderly couple, the Becks, rush to the place to see if Lena is their daughter, who mysteriously disappeared some fifteen years ago. Helping the couple is a police officer friend, Gerd Buhling, who also seems lost with his own failures in life. This particular plotline, which also soon merges with the main one, gives the show an emotional connection, as the couple’s desperation to find out about their daughter is felt rather poignantly.
If it was not already clear, Dear Child is very dark and uncomfortable at its most gruesome parts, and the sense of bizarreness and unnaturality exists even beyond such scenes. In all of the families, in whatever form they exist, there is a sense of completeness and conventionality. Yet, there are doubts introduced at the very base of these familial bonds since questions are raised about who one’s real biological parents are, in multiple instances. While some of these are directly presented by the show, some can be derived from the other possibilities that are presented. In a show that has characters quite involved and concerned about family, the idea of twisted, abusive fatherhood is perhaps the most shocking thing to happen.
The acting performances of the cast are to be mentioned, as each of the actors plays out their part with great skill and conviction. Naila Schuberth, though, the young girl playing the role of Hannah, is exceptionally good, as she steps into the shoes of a girl who is as strange as she is helpless in a brilliant manner. Schuberth was also seen earlier this year in Netflix’s Bird Box: Barcelona, where she played the role of the German girl Sofia. Although Dear Child does not employ any special visual or narrative style, the show’s editing is also to be praised since it never gives a moment to feel zoned out or bored by whatever is happening on screen.
Ultimately, when the end of Dear Child comes, it maintains the satisfactory feeling that is kept throughout the duration. It opts not to go for any major twists and, in the process, avoids any chance of becoming predictable. Despite its conventional style and production, Dear Child definitely comes off as an enjoyable and effective Netflix series.