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Thrown together and torn apart

Tight, exciting and nuanced, new six-part Croatian drama thriller Four Strangers is a proper treat

Four Strangers, Channel 4’s Croatian thriller series from Walter Presents. Photo: Channel 4

When I was a teenager, my first love and I had the slightly affected but in
retrospect highly valuable habit of going to see a different European film
each Sunday night, shown in a theatre by an independent cinema club.

One week we saw the Finnish drama Frozen Land, loosely based on Tolstoy’s short story The False Coupon. It involved a cast of various unrelated strangers whose ill fortunes rolled down to one another, rippling out into a vast pool of wasteful human tragedy. A bank note forged by a foolish but innocent teenager led to a beating in a pawn shop which led to a sober alcoholic taking up drinking again, which led to a murder, and so on and on. It was the butterfly effect, but for abjectly miserable Finnish folk. When my boyfriend and I emerged from the cinema, shaken and holding hands, a visibly harrowed older woman looked at us and said: “Be good to each other – life is so hard, so hard.”

Four Strangers, a six-part Croatian drama thriller from the Walter Presents service on All 4 which offers the best of European drama, has a basis much like that of Frozen Land. Here too, unrelated people caught in their own private torments become a part of one another’s stories, man handing misery on to man, as the poet says. Though the eventual connections of solidarity and friendship established between the four strangers serve to make it a less than wholly bleak watching experience, there are enough scenes of disturbing abuse and sexualised assault, particularly in the early episodes, that those wary of such matters being portrayed graphically may want to be cautious here.

Blanka (Tara Thaller) is a caustic, precocious 17-year-old. Her sultry beauty is her bargaining tool in the unpredictable and violent world she inhabits, a way to appeal to the men who control her but also a reason for them to punish her. She is angry and unpleasant to those around her, clearly as a reaction to the abuse she has continuously suffered. Her boyfriend Viktor is a preening macho predator, who enjoys the fact that his underage girlfriend has to hide from her father to send him naked photos and then head off to school. Her father, meanwhile, is domineering and physically violent, undermined by the supremacy of a new man in his daughter’s life. Sweltering in this hothouse of male ego, all Blanka really wants is escape and independence, but instead she is drawn into a new frontier of danger.

The inciting act of violence in Four Strangers is an apparently random attack on Vinka (Iva Mihalić) in a traffic jam. A married mother and mortgage adviser, she is rear-ended by an SUV and then immediately set upon with revolting force by the culpable driver to the shock of the surrounding
drivers. Some intervene, while others, including Kiki (Toni Gojanović), shrink back not wanting to get involved. Kiki is on his way to a meeting in a last-ditch attempt to prevent his flat being foreclosed, and doesn’t want to be late, but doesn’t know that the very woman he watches enduring the attack is the adviser he was on his way to plead with.

Meanwhile, across town, Haris (Uliks Fehmiu) is a top-level architect who has just realised that his largest client has been using his buildings to launder money and is now trying to sidestep safety regulations which would threaten the wellbeing of the ordinary people who live around them. He tries to extricate himself but the mob-adjacent client is having none of it. These four people all live or work in the same area of Zagreb, and on the night following the attack on Vinka, they will all coincide in a residential courtyard and happen across an episode of even more extreme violence which will bind them together. As might be expected with a backdrop of mob activity and corporate intrigue, the ostensible randomness of the connections soon come to appear more coherent and more sinister than first believed.

Four Strangers is a proper, thrilling treat, and makes me feel quite excited
about what we can expect from Walter Presents. It is nasty and dark at times
but not in a way which feels exploitative or wilfully repulsive – indeed its central villain, the property developer Lujo Kralj (Borut Veselko) has a face of such perfectly ideal villainy that it borders on comic. The moments of non-thrilling human pain are played compassionately and well, like Vinka’s devastation at discovering her gambling-addict husband sitting dead-eyed before a slot machine, or Blanka’s painful decision to abandon her father despite his years of abuse. Tighter, more exciting, and more nuanced than your average limited series thriller, this is one to watch.

Four Strangers is available now on All 4

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