Netflix’s “Dark Tourist” is riveting TV that should be called Daft Tourists
Talk about a scummy holiday...
Here's a cheery definition to bring you up to speed with the subject matter of this 8-part series. Dark tourism (also known as black tourism or grief tourism) involves a special breed of reprobate who pays to travel to places historically associated with death and tragedy. Yep. There are people out there who want to go to Auschwitz over Aruba. Haunted gaols instead of Jamaica. The Cambodian killing fields instead of Kokomo. I'm struggling to tell you why this is a thing.
In each 40-minute episode our disarmingly delightful host, kiwi journo David Farrier, visits three messed up locales. First on the to-do list is a jolly old bus ride into the Fukushima province of Japan, an area that suffered a double whammy of disasters in 2011. First, a 15-metre tsunami wave devastated the place and killed over 15,000 people. Mankind's encore to Mother Nature was a local powerplant having a level-7 nuclear meltdown, spewing radioactive materials far and wide. Perfect place to visit, right?
And that's what Farrier does. He hops on a charter bus, along with a handful of other people with poor decision-making instincts, and promptly goes for a day trip into a real-life representation of the popular video game series Fallout. It's riveting television, to say the least. I'm not sure what made me yell at my screen more, though, the insanely chipper, everything-is-peachy attitude of the Japanese tour guides, or the nut job passengers who relish taking insta-selfies near decimated local graveyards.
What I did get a kick out of: watching these idiotic “edgelords” transition from cocky to panicked as their Geiger counters pinged back increasingly apocalyptic results. The weirdly unflappable guide mentions that the “healthy” point of concern should be anything above 0.20. The group collectively soil themselves as the readings go, oh, about fifty times above that. A retreat is voted on, though not before they decide to stop off at a cafe to eat lunch made from local produce. If you loathe morons, this is a tough watch.
However, it's not all gold – there are some short segments nestled into the first episode that are intended to delight but kind of fizz out. Farrier visits a creepy Japanese hotel run entirely by weird androids that I'm pretty sure I could have built. There's also a short, rather boring excursion to a supposed ghost town island city off the South West coast of Japan. Some striking scenes are filmed but not much action or drama is to be had.
It's also disappointing that the Aokigahara forest is featured but doesn't get much of a look in. For those of you unfamiliar with it, this is Japan's suicide forest – the current number one spot in the world to end it all yourself, according to raw statistics. While it's good that Dark Tourist doesn't go to Logan Paul levels of depravity (a mental decathlete YouTuber who decided to rock in and film bodies), it's a shame that the long history of the place isn't expanded upon. Farrier promises big and under-delivers here.
I'll not spoil much of the remaining episodes (beyond a short list of their subject matters) but I will say that Farrier's success rate improves considerably as this macabre series continues. The depths of American weirdness is plumbed next. We go to New Orleans in search of vampires, Dallas for disturbing cosplay tours of the Kennedy assassination and we meet a bunch of loonies who get turned on by serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer.
All you really need to know is that David Farrier is as watchable as he is bold.
From here we break into a forbidden city in Cypress, go drinking with British Nazis and visit a Welsh museum of crime and controversy with exhibits rivalling the scummiest corners of the Internet. Then there's a bunch of South East Asian jaunts where mummified grandmas are unearthed and some hard questions are asked of Farrier in Cambodia (would you like to shoot this cow with a rocket launcher or a belt-fed machine gun, sir?).
After that Farrier figures he isn't irradiated enough, so he heads to the most nuclear bombed bit of land in the world. Then he gets banged up while going undercover in Turkmenistan, one of the world's most repressive regimes, and that's chased by looking for demon possession in New Mexico. You've got to admire the size of his balls when he asks Pablo Escobar's most lethal hitman if he's nuts, before trying to cross the border illegally back into the US.
There are more misadventures beyond these, but I'll let you discover them for yourself. All you really need to know is that David Farrier is as watchable as he is bold. Dark Tourist may sag a little here and there but for the most part this is an addictive and entertaining Netflix Original that illuminates just how weird and awful we are as a species. You probably already suspected as much. Watch this for irrefutable confirmation.
- Stream it on Netflix Australia
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