‘True Detective: Night Country’ Review: Chilling Frights and Complicated Women

True Detective Night Country stars Kali Reis (left) and Jodi Foster (right)

So often when it comes to crime dramas, we’re delivered the same copy-paste story about a haggard cop and his new partner who must tackle a horrifying mystery. And so often, those characters are white men who have cheated on their wives at least once, have an alcohol problem, and aren’t on speaking terms with their daughters. We’re given a glimpse into the deeply patriarchal world of law enforcement, but squarely from the lens of privileged folks who can’t really be touched by the laws they claim to uphold.

But, Issa López, who previously directed the modern horror masterpiece Tigers Are Not Afraid, wants to split those expectations wide open with True Detective: Night Country, the fourth season of the anthology series. López, the first woman to lead the series, uses her penchant for melding horror with social justice to weave an important, and scary, narrative about missing Indigenous women, preserving cultural identity, the undead, and the radical idea of a matriarchal society.

Ennis, Alaska exists at the edge of the world, where nighttime seemingly never ends and a mining operation threatens the lives of the town’s predominantly Indigenous population. This is the backdrop for the sudden disappearance of a research team based on the outskirts of town. On the case is the chief of Ennis police Liz Danvers (Jodie Foster), tasked with piecing together what happened to the crew, along with Officer Hank Prior (John Hawkes) and his son Officer Peter Prior (Finn Bennett). 

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But another officer is very interested in the case: Detective Evangeline Navarro (Kali Reis), Danvers’ old partner who is obsessed with closing the case of a missing Indigenous woman named Annie. Her body was discovered, covered in brutal stab wounds and with her tongue cut out. Ever since, Navarro has been trying to find the culprit behind the cruelty. She believes the disappearances are somehow linked to Annie and she’ll do anything to prove it. Cut from the same stubborn, mean, yet ultimately well-meaning cloth as Danvers, the two women simultaneously butt heads while also proving their detective skills as they argue their way across the tundra to discover the truth.

If you’re getting The Thing vibes, you aren’t alone. López utilizes the freezing-cold setting to pay homage to the John Carpenter classic, yes, but don’t expect the same kind of body horror here. Instead, López crafts a dreamy (or nightmarish, depending on the scene) vision of the maybe-supernatural. She walks the fine line of explicitly stating what’s going on here, but let’s just say this is the most horror-forward True Detective we’ve ever received. This isn’t just whispered mentions of the Yellow King and Carcosa, but specters on the ice that may or may not be figments of imagination. 

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But López doesn’t want to just tackle ghosts in the snow. She uses Night Country to address issues in Indigenous communities. Much of the season addresses the issues of missing women, but López also examines mental health in Indigenous communities, environmental issues, and, perhaps most importantly, what it means to be denied access to your own history and culture. We see both Navarro and Danvers’ stepdaughter Leah (Isabelle LaBlanc) struggling with their identities as Indigenous people without any living Indigenous parents, isolated from a community they want so badly to embrace. López uses the episodic format to dig into each of their stories, never putting these characters’ emotional journeys on the back burner in the name of adding another scare. 

Supporting López’s nuanced writing are powerhouse performances by Jodie Foster and Kali Reis. While Foster is already an acting icon, True Detective: Night Country lets the actor shine as a character who means well but is, frankly, rather detestable. She’s entitled, rude, and abrasive, but she knows how to run the department. Then there’s Reis—who started her life as a champion boxer. Here, she delivers a career-defining performance that’s going to put her on the map. Her work as Navarro is simply devastating as a woman who is just looking for something to keep her tethered to reality. Where Danvers feels almost too grounded, Navarro is barely there, fighting to feel alive however she can, whether that’s with sex, liquor, or fist fights. 

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Memes have been circulating Twitter lately about Rust Cohle, Matthew McConuaghey’s character from the first season, and how people could fix him. He’s just one of the strangely alluring broken men True Detective has given us. Now, López has done the same thing, but with broken women. Women who aren’t mothers or wives. They aren’t nurturing. She gives us real women allowed to exist as complicated figures with little to no moral compass. Think Mare Of Easttown, but even more dour and matriarchial.

To summarize, True Detective is back, baby. López, along with a phenomenal cast and team of writers and directors, has delivered us exactly what we’ve been waiting for: a nuanced and scary crime drama that has a point of view and isn’t afraid to criticize the very institution of policing (which is the bare minimum in 2024). So turn off the lights and grab the warmest blanket you have, because it’s time to venture into Night Country.

The first episode of True Detective: Night Country airs on Max at 9 PM.



Issa López brings ‘True Detective’ back to its true form thanks to a terrifying story, powerhouse performances, and chilling cinematography.



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