John Seven | Viewer's Discretion: Crime show's reverse order challenges your mind

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.  


In this haunting documentary, Chinese filmmaker Nanfu Wang heads down to Florida after moving to New York City, and decides to film every aspect of her visit there. She's in search of some mythical America cowboy spirit that leads to total freedom without ties, and a young charming homeless guy she meets is more than happy to play that archetypal role for her.

Dylan Olsen fulfills all her expectations. Handsome, charming, and apparently homeless by choice, he struts through the Florida streets making friends and gaining favors from strangers, and Wang accompanies him, mesmerized for awhile, but eventually begins analyzing what she has been witnessing and what it says about the real Dylan.

After that, Wang spends the rest of the movie deconstructing Dylan, looking into his background and the stories he told her, and trying to come to terms with what that means for her belief in the American dream of total freedom. In one particularly compelling section of the movie, Wang tracks down Dylan's family and visits with his father, an Mormon ex-policeman in Salt Lake City, who provides distressing details of Dylan's story and completely twists the movie around into a realm where the expected stereotypes dissipate around the real people captured on film.

Wang is really exploring not just the archetypes she imagined when she lived in China, but the stories Americans tell each other and, also, the lies we tell ourselves and the others around us in order to escape whatever is hard for us to solve. Fittingly beginning in Florida, where the Magic Kingdom and spring break vacations obscure the harsh realities of people's lives there, and moving to Salt Lake City, a place born of a modern prophet who claimed he found truth on golden plates protected by an angel, it's the story of what we tell ourselves in contrast to the harsh world we live in so that we can survive it. But it also examines the destructive qualities of these mind games, and in doing so, presents a fair portrait that acknowledges sometimes we do need this mechanism to get through things, but there's a balance required in order not to be engulfed while we are being saved.

Article Continues After These Ads


Created by Harry and Jack Williams, who did a crackerjack job at maintaining maximum creepiness with two seasons of "The Missing," "Rellik" takes a gimmick and uses it to experiment with the tropes of the British police detective mystery genre, as well as add some extreme intensity to it that results from the counterproductive structure. In "Rellik," as the title implies, the mystery is told in reverse order, starting with what seems to be the end of the case and then working backward. But even with this conceit, results can be revealed as deceiving, and revelations in reverse even more shocking than the narrative standard we're all used to.

Following DCI Gabriel Markham, played by Richard Dormer with the same obsessive and unhinged tension that he's given to his roles in "Game of Thrones" and "Fortitude," the series depicts the hunt for a serial killer. But there are other factors swirling around that central case, not the least of which is the mystery of Markham's burn-scarred face and the chaotic state of his love life, which has a direct effect on how he conducts himself in the job. Of particular importance in the story is his partner and lover, DI Elaine Shepard (Jodi Balfour), who alternately protects him and offers him further self-destruction through her constant temptation.

It's within this shattered scenario that the Williams' brothers take the audience on a wild, disorienting ride, introducing characters whose status seems resolved, but through retrospective storytelling, prove anything but. It's a whirlwind of a series — the pacing never slows much and you're busy trying to get your bearings since the backward structure can really throw off the standard viewing lull that your brain has gotten into over the years. So used to structuring the information in a certain logical order, "Rellik" transforms the genre into something of a frantic puzzle or even a carnival ride. It feels exhausting and invigorating — and even slightly dangerous.

John Seven is a writer in North Adams who has never been satisfied by movies and television that are easy to come by. He likes to do some digging. Find him online at


If you'd like to leave a comment (or a tip or a question) about this story with the editors, please email us. We also welcome letters to the editor for publication; you can do that by filling out our letters form and submitting it to the newsroom.

Powered by Creative Circle Media Solutions