31 Days of Horror: Netflix’s Dear Child is a twisty turney German mystery thriller

Dear Child - Courtesy Netflix
Dear Child - Courtesy Netflix /

Dear Child is a six episode limited series that is fiction but feels like it could be true crime.  The series is based on the 2020 novel Liebes Kind by Romy Hausmann, written and directed by Isabel Kleefeld and Julian Pörksen.  Dear Child, told in a fragmented storytelling style switching between different characters’ points of view, is a mix of mystery and family drama that captivates the viewer, making it difficult to only watch one episode at a time.  For me, unfortunately, it ended with more of a fizzle than a bang, but I still think the journey was worth my time.

The first episode of Dear Child sets up a woman and two young children, Hannah and Jonathan, locked in their living quarters from the outside. The children don’t seem bothered by their situation, but the woman is clearly terrified.  Later the woman is seen running through the woods in a nightgown with the girl when she is hit by a car.  In the ambulance the girl tells the paramedics her mother’s name is Lena, and her blood type is AB negative.

While the woman is in surgery, Hannah is taken by Nurse Ruth to find clothes and get cleaned up.  Hannah tells the nurse her last name is Goliath – one she just made up herself.  She also tells her that her mother is very clumsy, and that her mother tried to kill her father by accident. She draws a picture of her house with black windows, and tells Nurse Ruth her brother is still there.  As the doctor’s try to save the unidentified woman the OR, we see and hear images from her time in captivity before she seizes and almost dies because AB negative is not actually her blood type.

Lena's mother, Julika Jenkins, sits up in bed with her hands in front of her face looking shocked in Netflix' Dear Child.
Dear Child – Courtesy Netflix /

The police investigation lends a procedural cop drama vibe to Netflix’s Dear Child

Meanwhile, a detective calls sleeping parents to tell them he thinks they found their daughter who has been missing for thirteen years.  Karin and Matthias Beck rush to the hospital, gain access to the woman in recovery, and the father insists…this is not their daughter Lena.  When they see the young girl, the Becks are taken aback because this girl looks just like young Lena, and in Hannah’s mind she recognizes Matthias as “grandfather”.  What is going on?

There are two detectives on the case, Gerd is the original detective from Lena Beck’s disappearance thirteen years ago, and Aida is assigned to the hit-and-run woman escaped from captivity.  Gerd has personal ties to Lena and her parents that should disqualify him as a detective on the case (maybe the rules are different in Germany?), and is still haunted by the unsolved disappearance of his childhood friend.  As the detectives uncover new evidence, the case becomes stranger and more complicated.

close up of a young boy, Jonathan, looking at a snow globe in Netflix's Dear Child
Sammy Schrein on the set of Liebes Kind, Courtesy of Netflix 2023 /

In Dear Child‘s disjointed style of storytelling from multiple points of view, the viewer follows the clues with the detectives, experiences Lena’s trauma along with her, witnesses the “normalcy” of this life for Hannah even as Jonathan seems to not be thriving, and waits with Lena’s parents for every new kernel of information.  With each new piece of the puzzle, the prime suspect(s) vary, the identity of the woman in the hospital changes, the fate of Lena remains uncertain, and the intentions of Hannah seem at once innocent and nefarious.  It is difficult to watch one episode at a time, as each one ends with a shocking revelation of a cliffhanger.

Despite all the drama leading up to the final episode, the series does not go out in a blaze of glory.  By this time, Gerd, and thus, the viewer, has pretty much pieced together the whole puzzle.  Even with the sequence of events leading somewhere that feels like it should be suspenseful, it isn’t.  In fact, in this viewer’s experience, the final episode is the most predictable of all.  It is a satisfying ending though, with as much of a happily ever after as this cast of thoroughly traumatized characters can have.

Dear Child: Stream or skip?  Stream!  On Netflix.  Now.

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