‘Burning Body’ Makes for a Solid Addition to Netflix’s Ever-Expanding Roster of Easily Bingeable Mystery Thrillers
There are few certainties in life, but a brand new episodic mystery thriller capturing the attention and imagination of Netflix subscribers has proven itself countless times over to be one of them. Burning Body is the latest addition to the ever-expanding roster when it premieres this Friday, Sept. 8, and there’s no doubt it’ll be one of the most-watched originals on the entire streaming service in no time at all.
The Spanish-language original revolves around the charred remains of José Manuel Poga’s Pedro, a police officer discovered in a burnt-out car just outside of Barcelona. Naturally, a member of law enforcement meeting such a grisly demise piques the curiosity of the general public, but the subsequent investigation quickly leads down a dark and dangerous rabbit hole of illicit affairs, lies, deceit, violence, and sexually-charged scandal that increasingly draws Money Heist breakout Úrsula Corberó’s Rosa Pernal and Quim Gutiérrez’s former flame Albert into its orbit.
Dropping audiences right into the thick of it from the very beginning, the opening episode wastes no time in centering Rosa as the anchor of it all, and a smoldering corpse is the last thing she needed when her plate was already full thanks to the transferred cop being on leave for depression, in the midst of a bitter divorce from Isak Férriz’s ex-husband and father of her daughter Javi, never mind the soon-to-be-deceased Pedro having left the house the couple shared with Guiomar Caiado’s precocious youngster Sofia.
Naturally, her ex also happens to be a member of the police squad that oversees all of Catalonia’s law enforcement, and after letting off some steam at a party, Eva Llorach’s foreboding Inspector Verano shows up at her door to inform her that Pedro was discovered extra crispy. By the end of the first installment, it’s made abundantly clear that Rosa is neck-deep in a world of hurt in more ways than one.
Inspired by a true story but not beholden to the facts, Burning Body applies plenty of artistic and creative license to its real-life forebear in order to craft a tightly-wound and intertwining mystery that finds the walls closing in on its key players each time the credits roll on the latest chapter. This being a Netflix original, there are of course a string of revelations to be found within that shatter multiple worldviews, as well as a myriad of sex scenes that are hopefully this uncomfortable by design, because titillation is most certainly not the order of the day given the personal and professional ramifications of said copulation and the role lust plays across the entire unfurling tale.
Corberó’s Hollywood debut couldn’t have gone much worse after she showed up as the Baroness in the turgid Snake Eyes, but Burning Body is another reminder of why so many studios and production companies were keen to snap her up in the wake of her star-making turn in Money Heist. A force of nature that plays the bigger moments equally adeptly as the smaller ones, Rosa makes an alarming number of terrible decisions, but not once do you ever find yourself rooting against her.
As conventional as the miniseries can be in certain respects, it also makes a point of subverting expectations on occasion, with one major reveal straight-up given away in the opening episode. That takes one piece off the table, but then several more are moved around to continue piling mysteries on top of mysteries without having to rely on leaning too heavily into the standard tropes of the whodunit.
Those with an affinity for sensual thrillers, police procedurals, slow-burning tales of unraveling a tangled web of death and deceit, and many more besides will find a lot to like about Burning Body, although there’s a recurring feeling that creeps in and refuses to completely disappear in the latter episodes that maybe six hours would have been enough to bring things full circle, with repeated pacing issues coming close to making eight feel outright laborious.
At the end of the day, Burning Body is elevated above mediocrity almost entirely by the strength of its protagonist and Corberó’s performance. Sure, there are many cliched elements to Rosa in that she simply wants to be loved and rushes headlong into anything that may help her accomplish that goal regardless of the consequences, but being drawn into the midst of multiple dovetailing storylines that all begin and end with her is at least a novel way of approaching a narrative that reads as familiar and borderline cliched when distilled down to its essence.
It’s not going to be one that lives long in the memory or sinks its claws into the zeitgeist in the way that Netflix’s biggest and best shows do, but there’s more than enough to recommend about Burning Body to anybody with even the merest interest in its various genre-adjacent parts. By extension, the promise alone of a murder mystery with a salacious string of twists should ensure that it doesn’t end up being swallowed whole by the algorithm, so the imperfect original that never quite manages to make the most of its disparate parts may well have lucked its way into a win/win situation as a result.
Not exactly what you’d call groundbreaking or trailblazing, ‘Burning Body’ nonetheless ticks all of the boxes that have made the episodic mystery thriller into one of the most popular weapons in Netflix’s arsenal.
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