Maybe you’ve sworn off dystopian thrillers. “That was so middle school,” you say. The genre had its renaissance, after all, and now you’ve put your Mockingjay pins to rest. But with a brilliant cinematographer, a fresh setting and a punchy eight-episode arc, Netflix’s new original series “3%” sucks you into the craze all over again. The streaming giant’s first all-Brazilian production breathes new life and energy into the genre, perfect for the older, more intellectual you — and not just because you have to read subtitles.
In a futuristic society, the vast majority — the 97 percent — live a poverty-stricken existence. Each year, the population’s 20-year-olds have a chance to elevate their status by going through the Process, an elimination procedure characterized by mental, physical and emotional tests (think “The Hunger Games,” but less gory). Only three percent will be chosen to live out the rest of their lives on the Offshore, a mystical, utopian land of progress, safety and wealth.
The series opens on the 104th year of the Process, as 20-year-old hopefuls make their way from their torn-down favelas to the cold, empty evaluation facility, which acts as the primary setting for the show’s first season. Sci-fi gadgets and gizmos set up the futuristic feel as the series paints a stark contrast between the progress achieved by the elite and the poverty endured by the rest of the society.
Despite “3%” ’s relatively low production costs, especially when compared to recent releases in the genre on Netflix (like “Black Mirror”), the minimalistic setting still works. Although visually bare, it’s always intriguing, as Oscar-nominated cinematographer César Charlone (“City of God”) lends his genius to “3%.” The camera has impressive range, moving so uncomfortably close to a character that you can see every pore, or flying out to show an impressive view of the broken city below. The viewer’s experience is more than engaging: it’s exhilarating. As the audience tries to figure out the rules and constructions of the dystopia, the camera soars to make them want to live it themselves.
Perhaps what makes “3%” so captivating for a mature audience is the depth of its characters. The candidates the series focuses on are both collectively and independently compelling, establishing intriguing relationships as their own stories, motivations and secrets surface.
Primarily, the series tells the story of Michele, a strong, vengeful young woman played by Bianca Comparato (“In Treatment”). “3%” also features a captivating performance from João Miguel (“Cinema, Aspirins, and Vultures”) as the deceptive leader of the Process, who has a few secrets of his own. At times, like the dystopian-thriller genre in general, the show can venture into soap-opera territory — due to the life and death of it all, perhaps. But paired with well-developed and intriguing characters, the overly dramatic acting is not so much a turn-off, but rather another step in establishing the intense and binge-worthy feel of the series.
Considering today’s extreme political and social climate, fantasizing about another world is not so crazy. So whether you’re seeking full-bodied escapism or just an hour-long distraction, the gorgeous Portuguese dialogue and the vision of a brilliant cinematographer begs “3%” to be your next break from reality.