Fresh from the Jungle Training Centre, rookie cop Chloé Bresson (Stephane Caillard) joins an investigation unit in French Guiana. Self-assured yet inexperienced, she quickly finds herself at odds with the locals, including her new partner Joseph Dialo (Adama Niane).
Plunged into the deep end, a trip down the river leads the new team to a floating crime scene. With the sails dripping in blood, amputated feet and desanguinated sloths adorn the horror at the heart of it all: a ritualistic double murder. A couple who ran an NGO, brutally yet carefully slaughtered, with their son nowhere to be found.
The case moves swiftly onwards, camera not remaining upon the carnage longer than necessary, the way Chloé only looks as much as she needs to. It’s a world she struggles to understand, one where the isolation of the jungle allows myths and mysticism to thrive. Nevertheless, she’s running away from her own past with determination, and this fast-paced mystery only pauses from suspects and evidence when she does.
The terror and horror is balanced but with the subject matter Iskander attempts to tackle, emphasis of the former would benefit the psychological impact of the piece. Though rushed, the series avoids detective tropes through its poignant study of contrasting cultures – male and female, black and white, colonists and natives, Christian and voodoo, police and public etc.
For instance, though they are our protagonists, the uncomfortable cop mentality of the central duo isn’t condoned or glorified. Bresson arrests a witness, scaring him out of any useful testimony, while Dialo manhandles prostitutes for information. In the process of the investigation, racial tension comes to light: though the police are urgently searching for the white kid, Dialo’s inquiries reveal missing black kids going back even further.
Iskander: Shadow of the River is a fascinating mini-series using an outsider’s perspective to comprehend a culture of oppression, of suffering, disease and poverty, that creates its own unique nightmares. It blends the metaphysical with the material, legend with life, and brings up as many questions as it answers. The eloquence in its storytelling comes from the meeting of these opposites and I only wish it took longer than these four episodes to explore its complex landscape.
Iskander: Shadow of the River is now available to stream on Shudder.
by Fatima Sheriff
Fatima (she/her) is a third-year Biomed at the University of Sheffield. For insight into her personality, her favourite films are: Bright Star, Paddington 2, Taare Zameen Par and Pride & Prejudice and in 2017 she listened mostly to the Hidden Figures soundtrack. She loves TV shows with original concepts, witty writing, and diverse casting. Examples include Legion, Gravity Falls, and Sense 8. Her Twitter and TVShowTime are both @lafatimayette.