Groupthink

I watched the 8 episodes of Feria: The Darkest Light (original: Feria: La Luz Mas Oscura).

The story begins a while ago, as we fly down in to the Andalusian town of Feria. We enter the mineshaft nearby and see a man tied up, just before an explosion collapses the tunnel he is in.

Cut forward to the present day of this story.

It’s June 23rd and everyone’s happy, including local star Eva, who has already got some modelling work but is looking forward to moving away to become a student in Seville. Her slightly dumb boyfriend is cool about it.

Younger sister Sofia is going through an angry, grungy phase. It’s when she’s around that we get bits of 90s indie rock in the soundtrack (“Creep” by Radiohead, “Drive” by R.E.M., “Hazing” by Throwing Muses, “Love Songs On The Radio” by Mojave 3, and episode 8 ends rather bizarrely on “Trompe Le Monde” by Pixies). Because we’re in 1995 nobody can look up anything on the internet or a smartphone, but we are in the same period as groups such as the Heaven’s Gate cult.

Both girls are off to the mini-Burning Man style Midsummer Bonfire party that all the cool kids will be at, though Sofia isn’t too keen as it’s a conformist thing to do and she’s all about being a rebel. But their parents Elena and Pablo are quite keen for them to be out of the way, as they seem nervous about something that’s going to happen. Soon enough, the mysterious guys waiting in the car outside come in and tell them it’s time to go.

Meanwhile the kids just wanna have fun and chat about their futures and stuff.

The kid whose dad owns the town video store is filming away, getting footage and ideas he can use in another of his DIY horror films that he gets the other kids to star in.

Sofia goes for a dive while skinny-dipping. Something strange happens: a black thread appears and surrounds her, and she passes out underwater. Waking up at home the next day, Eva challenges her to remember anything about the previous night and how she nearly drowned and had to be rescued. Whilst they chat, we see armed special Police guys running past outside. They burst in and get the girls under arrest until the detectives arrive to ask them if they know where their parents are.

It seems their parents are visible in CCTV video footage going in to the old mineshaft with a lot of naked people, who are now lying dead outside. Elena didn’t reappear in the crowd exiting the tunnel, so there’s a special mystery about where she is now.

The old mine isn’t safe to go into anyway: it’s full of methane gas, which is asphyxiating to anyone who stays too long without breathing apparatus. The investigation is headed by detective Guillen from out of town, helped by other expert psychologists and forensic scientists, as they try to understand this mass-death of a cult that seem to draw together people across Spain, some of whom had been writing to Elena for years.

We now descend into a series of underworlds. Strange reptilian creatures seem to lurk in the mine, near a hidden Temple used by members of the Cult Of Light who are trying to ritually bring about a bridge between the worlds that separate their masters from the servants imprisoned in this world of darkness. We have an episode in black & white, flashing back to the last days of Franco, when the mineworkers were on strike as their jobs were about to be lost. The younger Elena and Pedro found out about the Cult and its plans to use the Temple for their apocalyptic plan. They thought they had defeated it and closed it down when they blew up the tunnels as part of the scheduled demolition to make way for new building elsewhere. Instead they were caught up again as the Cult revived and ensnared them.

The background of the Cult of Light is that it is supposedly an old Gnostic heresy that wants to bring other Gods into the world, though they seem to have dawdling about for quite a long time if they only got around to having a go in 1975. There is a bit about Elena and Sofia each being the “perfect woman” required for the final ceremonies, but it’s hard to credit that Spanish womanhood didn’t produce any other candidates in over 1000 years – unless perhaps this story is a very coded piece of ultraconservative propaganda, that poses the rise of 20th century secular attitudes as opening a portal for Satanic terrors that were kept under control previously. But that doesn’t fit with the portrayal of general corruption – the local priest knew about the cult but did nothing, and is known to be an abuser, whilst many other respectable people of Feria were involved in the secret ceremonies. It turns out that the covered-over mural in the church, which the old Mayor had put up, was in fact a glorification of the Cult’s beliefs.

Eva and Sofia don’t know and can’t explain anything about what their parents were involved with, but Sofia starts to get drawn in by the Cult and takes part in trances and orgies and blood rites. Everyone is susceptible to getting taken over and doing murderous deeds in the service of the demons at large.

Guillen of course is the rationalist man-of-science who wants to explain all this as a mass hysteria: violent delusions fuelled by hallucinogenic drugs and sex parties and mumbo jumbo. Of course he has to be convinced that higher powers are loose in this world. Pablo is finally discovered and he confesses he was also a sceptic when he came to Feria in 1975 but he’s seen mad stuff and can no longer doubt that trans-dimensional creatures certainly want to manipulate humans so they can come across to our world… although they must be able to exert some influence already, otherwise they’d never be able to get started. It is possible these demons are in fact an alien reptilian race, maybe from another part of our universe, but we never get to consider those possibilities.

The story is mostly told in plain realist style, switching between locations at much the same time. We have one episode in flashback, and one that starts by replaying the old amateur horror film made by the video store kid. It turns out he filmed it around the mineshaft, and there is the brief possibility this could still turn out to be a mass delusion. There are sections that are revealed to be hallucinations, but usually Sofia’s visions turn out to be corroborated by the other people she meets in them.

This has obvious affinities with Twin Peaks and Stranger Things but absolutely none of the humour or lightness that leavened those worlds. The mad Gnostic cult are quite joyless and dull when they aren’t being violent and creepy, though there is a faint strand of tenderness for the lost souls drawn into this sort of thing by the sadness and spiritual emptiness of the modern world. This story could appeal to ultrareactionary Catholic traditionalists, though the absence of a positive clerical figure would be a defect, and Guillen does not make a definite conversion to the True Church in time for the final battle against evil. Huysmans’ La-Bas reworked by Arthur Machen and set in modern Spain seems to be the pitch.

Since the world did not end in 1995, as far as we know, there will either be a second series tidying up that particular loose end, or it could be that, despite all the proofs and revelations, nothing that happened in Feria was real. Of course Feria isn’t real – it’s a fictional town in a TV show. There was a moment when I thought that would be the final resolution, when Eva and Sofia were reminiscing about acting out their roles in the amateur horror film. Something like that ending turned up in The OA, but there we weren’t supposed to take it as a complete rupture of the narrative. We can only wait and see if that’s the concluding way out taken by the final 5th season of Stranger Things, and that’s the show most likely to make a good job of it.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s