The cinematic shortcut to paradise doesn’t really evolve: white sandy beaches, swaying palm trees, warm water bluer than a sports drink. In the first episode of the new Spanish series from Netflix Welcome to Eden, a group of young people arrive for an exclusive underground party on an unspecified island in the Canary Islands. They don’t really know who’s throwing it, just that they’re on the list.
19-year-old Zoa (played by Goya-nominated actress Amaia Aberasturi) receives her invite around the same time she learns her moody mother is back from rehab. “I can help you be happy,” reads a mysterious text message, accompanied by a video that the showrunners deliberately modeled after the announcement of the luxury music event Fyre Festival. You’ll probably remember how that ended.
Zoa has to make a choice: will she look after her teenage sister in Barcelona or frolic in the surf with people who closely resemble Bella Hadid? The answer comes as simple as pulling on her cutoff jeans and a few bottles of Eden, the mysterious alcopop that fuels anger.
Paradise is never what it seems. When the catamaran departs for the mainland the next morning, five partygoers, including Zoa and África – an online influencer played by Spanish-Mexican pop star Belinda – are “accidentally” stranded ashore. Astrid, the sinister leader of a self-sufficient eco-commune on the island, agrees to take her in until the next boat arrives. But the facade of serenity in the commune crumbles almost immediately, and with it begins a thriller we’ve seen before. Zoa’s cunning attempts to discover the true nature of the island eventually leads the newcomers into a bloody battle against their captors.
The series comes to mind immediately The beach, Adapted from the 1996 novel by Alex Garland, the 2000 Danny Boyle film stars Leonardo DiCaprio as Richard, a backpacker who stumbles upon a tropical commune under the spell of a charismatic leader. Welcome to Eden borrows that film’s slightly sickening fast cuts and trippy luminescence to underscore the sickness of the modern world.
It is how our leads are lured away from the grind of modern life getting a very 2022 grind. Richard found paradise using a dubious, hand-drawn map that took more courage than common sense to follow. Here, the VIPs will receive an e-vite on a hot new brand activation for Eden. When you arrive you swap your phone for an electronic bracelet that monitors your open bar orders and who knows what else. True Escape is a well-executed social media ban. You don’t go in search of your own empty paradise; They are waiting for someone to propose a “collaboration”.
From the beginning it is clear that the catamaran back to civilization only forgets whom Astrid wants to forget. The newcomers are not stranded, but selected. “They don’t care about you,” says Astrid, played by Spanish TV star Amaia Salamanca, with the steely intensity of a famous Pilates instructor. “To them you are just faceless, voiceless pawns. They will die rich and you will inherit a planet destroyed by their greed.” But on the island? They are considered special enough to kidnap her.
There’s a lot about Welcome to Eden that makes no sense. We never learn exactly what’s in the proprietary elixir, only that it seems to suck. The people who drink it become moody and reckless. They brood over the worst parts of their lives. It’s mystery box TV at its most unbridled. There are elaborate looking dossiers for each newcomer but little understanding of why they were chosen. It is rarely obvious who is a true believer and who is a spy on the island. To say the season ends on a cliffhanger would be to understate how much confusion remains at the end of the final episode.
but Welcome to Eden, at number two on Netflix’s US Top 10 list, strikes a chord. The show offers a vision of escape that blends the fantastic – a deadly cult of beautiful people in blue athleisure hues – with the utterly mundane reasons a person might be tempted to disappear. Some people, like Zoa, have crappy parents; África’s only connection to the real world is its social media base. Her sadness is so inescapably prosaic that it calls for a radical solution.
It is therefore frightening – and not improbable – how quickly the attraction of home is fading. Several characters are tempted by romantic love, the kind absent from their lives in Barcelona, or the promise of a ‘chosen family’. What is home but a place where people love you? “We don’t take the real world out on them,” Astrid says to a new convert, lending the word “real” her private meaning—ugly, cold, forgetful. “We protect them from that.”
Welcome to Eden is now streaming on Netflix