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Home > Dark Tourist
Dark Tourist (2018 - Present)
Dark tourist, series info.
Most tourists like to visit popular sites and attractions, like beaches, stadiums and museums, while on vacation. There is a subset of tourism, however, that involves visiting places that are historically associated with death and tragedy. Journalist David Farrier focuses on that area of travel, known as dark tourism, in this docuseries. In each episode, Farrier travels to a different locale to visit destinations and have experiences that wouldn't be on most vacationers' bucket lists. He embeds himself in a death-worshipping cult in Mexico, sees tourists soaking up radiation left behind in Fukushima, meets vampires in New Orleans, and travels to the most-nuked place on Earth for atomic swimming and fishing.
- Starring: David Farrier
- TV Network: Netflix
- Premiere Date: Jul 20, 2018
- Genre: Documentary
- Executive producers: Carthew Neal, David Farrier, Mark McNeill
Where to watch Dark Tourist
Watch Dark Tourist with a subscription on Netflix.
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Stream It Or Skip It: ‘Dark Tourist’ on Netflix Questions Our Morbid Fascinations
Where to stream:.
- Dark Tourist
Who would want to spend their hard-earned money exploring some of the most depraved sights around the world? It turns out a lot of people. Netflix ‘s latest docuseries Dark Tourist examines this phenomenon, questioning why we’re drawn to dark destinations like murder sites while taking a hard look at the men and women who profit from them.
DARK TOURIST : STREAM IT OR SKIP IT?
Opening Shot: Journalist David Farrier , one of the directors of 2016’s Tickled , types on a laptop as the camera pans around the room, taking in a collection of skulls and models of human organs. In a voiceover he matter-of-factly says “I’ve decided to explore dark tourism, a global phenomenon where people avoid the ordinary and instead head for holidays in war zones, disaster sites, and other off-beat destinations.” He then gets right to the chase. In its first episode, Dark Tourist will explore exorcisms in Mexico City, the Pablo Escobar-themed vacation industry in Colombia, and a six-hour interactive tour on the U.S. Mexico border that follows Farrier and his cameraman retracing the steps of illegal migrants.
All of this is clearly explained before Dark Tourist cuts to its delightfully warped opening credits animation, which looks like Man Seeking Woman ‘s credits but with a dark twist. This travel show is all about the parts the Travel Channel leaves out.
The Gist: It feels insincere to call Dark Tourist a travel show because it’s not exactly about tourism. Rather it’s something between a reality show and a docuseries that holds a magnifying glass up to the men and women profiting from tragic moments in human history while also scrutinizing the tourists who seek out these attractions. It’s a show about the world’s weirdness told through our perverse obsession with said weirdness.
Each roughly 45-minute episode focuses on a different area from around the world and explores three different dark attractions from that area. In the process of exploring these exhibits, Farrier interviews these tour creators, their guides, the tourists themselves, the locals, and everyone in between on his quest to understand why. Why are people drawn to these places, and what does it say about us?
Our Take: Dark Tourist has to thread a pretty delicate needle. After all, isn’t a show about people capitalizing off of human tragedy also capitalizing off of that same tragedy? That’s what makes David Farrier such an integral part to this complicated process. Farrier approaches each of this show’s destinations with an open-handed earnestness that rarely outright applauds or condemns any one attraction. He’s merely attempting to understand this odd fasciation, and more often than not he’s endearing in his journey.
If you’ve seen Farrier’s documentary Tickled, then you know why the New Zealand journalist was tapped to host this project. Much like his documentary about a corrupt underground tickling organization, Farrier is apt at combining a dogged knack for exploring disturbing rabbit holes with his own quiet and sincere demeanor. On more than one occasion you get the feeling his interview subjects have shared more with him than they ever intended to, and yet no one seems particularly upset about letting him into their world.
The series’ first episode, “Latin America,” contains a great example of this during a Pablo Escobar-themed tour in Colombia. After exploring both the cornier side of narcos tourism (a driving tour with an Escobar lookalike) as well as the more luxurious side (a tour of one of Escobar’s high rises given by Escobar’s sister-in-law), Dark Tourist heads to La Catedral, the five-star personal prison Escobar built for himself to serve out his jail time. Once there Farrier meets John Jairo Velásquez, better known as “Popeye”, the man who was Escobar’s personal hitman .
The Popeye interview is filled with bewildering facts about the hitman, from his body count of over 250 people to his current success as a YouTube star. But slowly the conversation transforms from a perverse look at an assassin into a deep dive into why someone would murder their girlfriend for their boss. As Popeye alternatively jokes about the people he’s killed in La Catedral and claims he regrets his actions, Farrier won’t let up his quiet hounding about Popeye’s mental well-being. He eventually even offers Popeye the number to his own psychologist. In response, Popeye kisses his gun and claims it’s the only psychologist he needs.
“I didn’t want to end up liking you, but I like you,” the host begrudgingly says to Popeye at the end of the segment. In a weird way, that sums up most of Dark Tourist.
Both Farrier and the show are unabashedly honest. The host will often speak up if he doesn’t believe something is real, and he will call out people he believes are being overly theatrical or downright dishonest. Throughout the entire U.S. Mexico border-crossing tour, Farrier can be seen laughing uncomfortably. But these inconsistent moments are largely what make the series work.
Sometimes half-promotional, sometimes scathing, it often feels like Dark Tourist doesn’t know what it is or what it wants to be. But that uncertainty embodies the dark tourism industry itself. There’s no clear answer about why there are multiple legal tours about Jeffrey Dahmer’s life or a driving tour through a town that’s been soaked in radiation. However, these things exist and point to a weird, grotesque part of human interest. At the very least it’s worth questioning this bizarre fascination instead of pretending that it doesn’t exist.
Sex and Skin: At one point Popeye goes into detail about the group orgies he used to have with Pablo Escobar. Welcome to Netflix, baby.
Parting Shot: The first episode of Dark Tourist fittingly ends with Farrier being caught by “border patrol” at the end of his U.S. Mexico border tour. Though he can still be seen nervously laughing at the absurdity of this experience, his voiceover is much more somber as he highlights again how this tour was created to teach people about the very real dangers of attempting to cross the border. Beneath its dark origins and B-movie execution there’s a real lesson lurking under this particular attraction.
- Stream It Or Skip It
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Sleeper Star: The most interesting interview of in “Latin America” is with Doña Queta in Mexico City. Halfway through the episode, Farrier attempts to understand why a group of people would worship Santa Muerte, a Mexican folk saint that is the saint of death. But instead of delivering the dark and cult-like backstory Farrier likely wants to hear, Queta explains that honoring Santa Muerte is more about proving you’re unafraid of death. It’s a nuanced explanation for a phenomenon that seems intrinsically disturbing.
Most Pilot-y Line: Farrier transitions into the border tour by saying, “Tourists might relax one more time poolside, sipping their last tequila before catching their plane home. But I’m not interested in leaving Mexico the easy way.” I get that tourists and dark tourists are two different breeds of people, but c’mon. This one is a bit on the nose.
Our Call: Stream it, for sure. Dark Tourist explores in detail the same dark impulses that prompt people to binge documentaries about murder and read graphic books about cults. It may make you uncomfortable, but it will also force you to question why we’re into so many messed up things.
Stream Dark Tourist on Netflix
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Netflix’s Dark Tourist and the trouble with ‘extreme’ travel TV
David Farrier’s series follows in the footsteps of Ross Kemp and Vice by making titillating television from war zones and disaster sites. It’s shallow and sordid
O ne of the most unpleasant rumours I can recall emerging from the Balkan wars of the 1990s was of a German agency who organised trips for tourists to “visit” the conflict and even participate. There’s nothing quite so appalling as that in David “ Tickled ” Farrier’s new Netflix series Dark Tourist, although it does venture into the grotesquely bizarre. He looks at the trend for Nuclear Tourism, for example, in which people flock to soak up the radiation left behind following the disaster in Fukushima , as well as the tourist industry that has built up around the serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer . He also visits locations in Africa and South America associated with death and destruction that some tourists find somehow attractive, a shameful attraction the makers of Dark Tourist assume is shared to a degree by the viewer.
Although there are strong hints of Louis Theroux in Farrier’s chin-scratching demeanour, overall the series is part of a recent trend for making titillating TV from the world’s troublespots. Its soundtrack and graphics fit the bill: pummelling, Wagnerian motifs knocking you back like Tequila slammers, bursts of brutal fast cuts. It feels a little sordid, as if the miseries of the world are mere fodder for some televisual equivalent of the thrills of extreme mountain biking. On the other hand, you feel a bit chastened in your armchair watching Farrier enduring privations such as a voodoo ritual or narco tours in Pablo Escobar’s old neighbourhood.
From The Misadventures Of Romesh Ranganathan to the range of documentaries produced by Vice ( Uganda’s Moonshine Epidemic , The Cannibal Warlords Of Liberia , Nigeria’s Oil Pirates: The Curse Of Oil ), there is a deep ambivalence about this particular strain of television . It’s educational, for sure, and takes some courage to produce but seems more interested in wallowing in the colourful weirdness of strife, as well as the ballsiness and endurance of facing up to it first hand, rather than offering any sort of political analysis or possible solution.
A particularly egregious example, it always seemed, was Ross Kemp’s Extreme World featuring the former EastEnders hardman looking suitably engorged, challenging the world’s troublespots to come and have a go if they thought were hard enough. The credits were especially risible, bringing to mind Alan Partridge sitting on the toilet reading Andy McNab’s Bravo Two Zero .
Once you got past the posturing and the “I was warned by the locals not to venture here but I’m a Mitchell brother, no one tells me where not to go”, he did actually succeed in exposing viewers to some bleak and brutal truths. In one episode, for instance, he investigated the phenomenon of sex trafficking in India, with thousands of girls abducted from country villages to big city brothels every year. He spoke to both the traffickers and to outraged villagers who were taking matters into their own hands. After all that initial posturing, you felt that Kemp himself shared a feeling of impotence in the face of such chronic evil, while the community response offered a sobering and genuinely strong measure of hope.
Meanwhile, in Misadventures, when comedian Ranganathan visits Port-Au-Prince in Haiti, he has a moment of genuine doubt as to what he is doing there. The whole conceit of his stepping bravely out of his comfort zone (a motif of Dark Tourist also) suddenly seems cripplingly irrelevant in the face of the urban despair, while the wry, sidelong glance at the bonkers-ness of it all feels utterly inappropriate, too. “I’m not sure we should be filming here,” he says.
Perhaps the master of this mode of television was Anthony Bourdain . In his series Parts Unknown, you never felt like you were being targeted by some amorally tumescent programme commissioner, seeking out macho thrills at the expense of the locals. When visiting Burma, for instance, he revealed its people not as global eccentrics, gun-toting desperadoes or basket cases for our entertainment but as human beings, conversing with them sympathetically, and inviting them to express themselves not through the varied and yet universal language of cuisine.
Dark Tourist is on Netflix now
Dark Tourist (2018)
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The Disaster Zone of Netflix’s Dark Tourist
The new eight-part series supposedly travels to the most mad, macabre, and morbid places in the world.
The host of Dark Tourist , David Farrier, is likened in the final episode of the new Netflix travel series to a kind of budget Louis Theroux, which he considers a compliment. Like the legendary British documentarian, Farrier is lanky, awkward, frequently befuddled, and undeniably charming (he hails from New Zealand, and most recently co-directed the 2016 documentary Tickled ). His signature outfit is a button-down shirt over a pair of pink, pineapple-patterned shorts. It’s hard to marry the conceit of Dark Tourist —which is that Farrier is pursuing his dangerous fascination with all things “mad, macabre, and morbid”—with the show itself, which often feels like the world’s most genial librarian has accidentally ended up on a day trip to an Elite Hunting Club hostel in Slovakia.
It’s a disconnect that Farrier plays up throughout the eight episodes of Dark Tourist , which see him seeking out some of the world’s most disconcerting travel experiences. In Mexico City, while reporting on a sinister-sounding cult that worships death, Farrier jokes about a noisy exorcism drawing complaints from the neighbors. At a World War II reenactment in England, he refers to people who dress up as Nazis as “a pretty big, swastika-wearing elephant in the room.” Intermittently, Farrier offers up some half-hearted bromides to justify his misadventures. After injuring his hand in Turkmenistan and being injected with ketamine by doctors who appear not to tend to his wound at all, Farrier concludes, “Sometimes … dark tourism is the total realization of just how good I’ve got it back home.”
Is that what dark tourism is? An opportunity for thrill-seeking, cash-privileged Westerners to feel better about their mundane lives by trawling through global hot spots of genocide, catastrophe, and authoritarianism? In the first episode of Dark Tourist , Farrier categorizes the practice he’s investigating (or indulging in, it’s never entirely clear which) as “holidays in war zones, disaster sites, and other offbeat destinations .” That latter clause ends up doing a lot of work on the show’s behalf, because Dark Tourist , it transpires, is less often a travelogue than a voyeuristic trip into the grimmest regions of the human psyche. Serial killers, vampire cults, white separatists, oppressive warlords, haunted-house sadists—all feature in Farrier’s bumbling, affable narratives.
But there are other stories too, and that’s where the show’s hazy self-definition becomes troubling. It’s easy to comprehend the “darkness” in white South Africans prepping for a biblical race war, or in a dollar-store cult leader in New Orleans who drinks human blood, or in a military-run shooting range in Cambodia where tourists can pay to blast live animals with rocket launchers. But when Dark Tourist visits a remote part of Indonesia known for its elaborate funeral rites, or a life-size Noah’s Ark in Kentucky, or a part of Mexico City where a death saint is revered, the show’s framing takes things that are strange or simply unfamiliar and implies that they’re sinister. The best travelogues—Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown in particular—emphasize connection, despite language, despite difference. Dark Tourist does the opposite. It seeks out places and people who are bizarre, unusual, or just downright tacky, and it urges you to recoil at them.
Toward the end of the first episode, Farrier goes on a tourist experience by the Mexico-U.S. border, which offers an immersive re-creation of what it’s like to try to cross into America illegally as a migrant. The trip starts in darkness, as the group is screamed at by the masked man running the show, and proceeds as the dark tourists cross treacherous terrain, keeping eyes out for people pretending to be armed robbers and border-patrol officers. “It’s a weird role-playing experience that for six madcap hours allowed us to slip in and out of a very different reality,” Farrier narrates in voice-over. “At times it was entertaining … but in the end I got the message. For real migrants this is never fun.”
It’s a conclusion that feels more like a disclaimer than a genuine moment of self-awareness. When it isn’t pursuing the macabre, Dark Tourist is all about trying other people’s tribulations on for size. In the second episode, Farrier and a tour group visit an irradiated Japanese ghost town deserted after the Fukushima nuclear disaster. While the government has officially declared the town safe, Farrier explains, its former inhabitants aren’t in a rush to return. As the tour moves through the area, the Geiger counters the tourists hold register shockingly high levels of radiation around them, to the point where they finally seem uncomfortable. “Suddenly nuclear tourism doesn’t seem like such a great idea,” Farrier quips.
The term dark tourism was coined in 2000 by two academics, John Lennon (not that one) and Malcolm Foley, who together published a book investigating the increasing prevalence of “tourist interest in recent death, disaster, and atrocity.” While pilgrimages to historical sites involving death have long played a role in tourism, they write, the late-20th and early-21st centuries saw a surge in curious travelers intentionally seeking out what the sociologist Chris Rojek characterizes as “fatal attractions.” In 2011, the British comedian and writer Dom Joly published a book called The Dark Tourist , in which he detailed his travels to unconventional locations including Chernobyl and North Korea.
Although Joly’s book bears notable conceptual similarities to Dark Tourist (so much so that he complained bitterly about the show on Twitter), Joly’s attitude toward dark tourism is slightly different. On his travels, he recounted for The Independent , he realized that “all these places that were supposedly off-limits or dangerous were always fascinating and often incredibly good fun,” almost entirely because of the people he met. Dark tourism for Joly wasn’t about visiting difficult places in the world and grimacing at their horror; it was realizing that “human life always survived and often flourished under the most extreme of circumstances.”
In rare moments, Dark Tourist (the show) summons some sense of this appreciation for how resilient people can be. On a bicycle tour of the Alexandra township in South Africa, Farrier gets off to a bad start by focusing on the area’s reputation for gun crime, and tells his guide (who lives there) that he’s never been on a “slum tour” before. Then, realizing his rudeness, he apologizes profusely. He spends time getting to know a local named Stacey who’s a star in the extreme sport of spinning , and he expresses admiration for how Alexandra residents have created such a “vibrant and unique community.” But the segment’s brevity—most places Farrier visits get about 10 minutes a show—doesn’t allow for more than a superficial teachable moment.
More often, Dark Tourist treats its subjects like curios in a junk shop, casually examining them from different angles and then discarding them. Visiting Myanmar—in an episode that somehow makes no mention whatsoever of the regime’s human-rights abuses and persecution of Rohingya Muslims—Farrier tours the new $5 billion capital city and finds it disappointingly pristine. In a white-separatist town in South Africa called Orania , he interviews visitors who praise the community’s “culture,” and how “clean and safe” it is, but he declines to press them further on what they’re actually appreciating. His offscreen narration is limited to the flimsiest of platitudes (“On this trip I’ve flirted with radiation, desolation, and death … and somehow it’s made me even more happy to be alive”), rather than the nuanced, difficult context that’s required.
Foley and Lennon theorize that there are several major reasons why dark tourism is flourishing. One is the desire to better understand and connect with history, which is why people visit battlefields and concentration camps. Another is a subconscious desire to get closer to death for people from Western cultures that are increasingly removed from it. Farrier eats meat, but he cringes when animals are slaughtered in front of him. In Toraja, Indonesia, he watches as corpses are lovingly unwrapped and redressed in front of him, remarking that one is the first dead body he’s ever seen. It’s a moment of accidental insight that the series declines to excavate.
What’s more characteristic of Dark Tourist is a ghoulish but superficial kind of thrill seeking, as Farrier chats with Charles Manson’s best friend, and with Pablo Escobar’s assassin, and with the proprietor of a John F. Kennedy death tour who insists he’s a historian. The show seeks these people out, it hints, not because they have worthwhile things to say, but because this is what viewers want to see. We, after all, are the people watching a Netflix documentary series about the most supposedly bizarre, grotesque, and disturbing places in the world. Dark Tourist is just another guide on the trip, cashing in on people’s morbid curiosities without caring what real wisdom it could impart if it tried.
Watch Dark Tourist
- 7.5 (7,961)
The Netflix original series Dark Tourist takes the audience on a journey through locations that are widely considered taboo, morbid or dangerous, as seen through the eyes of New Zealand journalist David Farrier. The show touches upon the uneasy feeling of voyeurism mixed with the heightened sense of curiosity as David meets guides and local experts who help him gain access to these otherwise inaccessible and off-limits locations around the world.
The series is divided into 8 episodes, each with a different location that David visits. In the first episode, viewers get a glimpse of the Medellin in Colombia, which was once known as the home of famed drug lord Pablo Escobar. David visits slums, meets the hitman who killed Escobar and even visits sites associated with the cult of Santa Muerte. Throughout the episode, we see David's curiosity grow as he tries to understand why people are drawn to visiting these dark locations.
In another episode, David explores the âsuicide forestâ of Aokigahara in Japan, which averages around 100 suicides a year, with some hikers reportedly choosing to die there. David interviews locals, who take him on a trek through the dense forest and explain the reasons behind people who choose to take their own lives, many of whom visit the place because of the belief that the forest spirits will take care of them. In a different episode, David travels to Kazakhstan to visit the site of nuclear testing, where many locals are still suffering from the effects of radiation poisoning.
The series covers other dark tourism hotspots like New Orleans, which still carries the scars of Hurricane Katrina, the forbidden city of Turkmenistan and a haunted hotel in the USA. It also touches upon some contemporary issues like the refugee crisis in Europe, as David visits an abandoned village on the border between Croatia and Serbia, which is now inhabited only by refugees.
Throughout the series, David's curiosity and candid approach to filming set the tone for each episode. He is not afraid to participate in the experiences and often immerses himself in the culture of the location, giving the viewer a true insider's perspective. At times, this can be unsettling, especially when he finds himself in dangerous situations.
What adds to the charm of Dark Tourist is the tone of the show, which is neither exploitative nor voyeuristic. David often questions the ethics of dark tourism, but acknowledges that people are drawn to these places out of genuine curiosity. He does well to ensure that his interactions with locals show a great deal of respect for their culture and also highlights some of the economic benefits to tourism in the areas he visits.
The show has a bold and cinematic look with elaborate shots that add to the aesthetic of the overall experience. David's narration carries the audience through each episode, not lingering too long on any one subject and often injecting some humor into the stories. The show's crescendo spells an element of discovery as David looks for answers to various questions he has related to dark tourism.
In conclusion, Dark Tourist is well worth a watch for anyone interested in exploring more off-the-beaten-path locations around the world, as well as offering insights into the hot-button issues of our times. The show offers a unique blend of curiosity and respect towards the traditions and people from the locations visited, while also recognizing the potential ethical issues associated with dark tourism. It may take you on an emotional rollercoaster but it will offer up a unique perspective that is not often appreciated by the mainstream tourist brochures.
Dark Tourist is a series that is currently running and has 1 seasons (8 episodes). The series first aired on July 20, 2018.
- Genres Documentary & Biography Travel
- Cast David Farrier
- Channel Netflix
- Premiere Date July 20, 2018
- IMDB Rating 7.5 (7,961)
DARK TOURIST: Exploring What It Means To Travel (& Interview With David Farrier)
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Tom is a recent graduate based in the UK, who…
Although the term ‘dark tourism’ was only coined in 1996, the presence of death in travel has been a common one in Literature throughout the years. In Greek legend, the dead had to travel across the river Styx to reach Hades. Citizens of the Roman Empire used to travel hundreds of miles to watch gladiatorial combat, where men and animals butchered each other. And now in 2018, Netflix has thrown its hat into the ring with Dark Tourist to try and understand why so many tourist destinations around the world put such an emphasis on death.
Presented by documentarian and journalist David Farrier , each of the eight episodes of Dark Tourist visits a different corner of the world to explore the customs, tourist traps and strange personalities that draw ‘dark tourists’, or purveyors of the “mad, macabre, and morbid”. From swimming in a lake made from a nuclear test, to being taken on a tour of La Catedral by Pablo Escobar’s hitman, there are some wild and strange activities shown.
It’s a premise that sounds very close to viewing different cultures as oddities or curiosities in a museum, but one of the many strengths of the show is the passion and respect Farrier shows to each culture. In fact, the show goes from strength to strength in exploring not just foreign and scare-reported cultures but questioning what it means to be a ‘tourist’, and why people are so keen to tour locations of genocides and mass murders. Dark Tourist is a fascinating and insightful adventure into the human mind via the roads of Ashgabat, the outbacks of South Africa, and the weird cultures that pop up around the world to celebrate death.
Unpacking What It Means To Travel
Dark Tourist proceeds for the first few episodes as a fairly by-the-book, if highly entertaining, travelogue show. This format is shaken up in the fourth episode, ‘The Stans,’ when Farrier and a companion visit an institute related to the radioactive wastes of Kazakhstan’s Polygon. It causes the two to reinterpret the location they had just visited, understand the way their jovial tourism affects the countries they visit, and question the oft-glorified narrative of travelling and adventuring.
While this event is a startling blow in the narrative of the episode, the themes it brings up resonate through the rest of the series. The show transcends its genre, and starts to shine a spotlight on the effects of tourism on the locations it visits, as well as the way the series’ habit of visiting ‘undiscovered’ communities and ideologies may, by ‘discovering’ them, cause them to fundamentally change.
After this, typical tourist destinations or facades are called in to question – Farrier notes the absence of people in the beautiful yet desolate city of Naypyidaw, linking it in ways to its country’s brutal past. There becomes a clear pattern of the series exploring locations that seem fascinating, but are burdened with dark historical tales, from a city deserted after the Turkish invasion of Cyprus to Japan’s ‘Battleship Island’. These are not pure and pristine destinations to spend a week, they’re pieces of history with troubled and problematic pasts.
This underlying sense of an uncomfortable history is brought out in part by the ways Farrier and his crew interacts with the locations, and in part by the sheer time spent in each place. Each episode could easily explore hundreds of dark tourist destinations, but they are limited to three – and it clearly does justice to these places that time is spent delving into each horrible history or murderous past.
At times, Farrier also interviews or questions the people who glorify this death – he spends time with people who seem far too fascinated with Jeffrey Dahmer and also visits a ‘survivalist’ group (i.e. white supremacists) in South Africa called the Suidlanders. This part of the ‘Africa’ episode is the only time the series drops form and doesn’t explore the history – it’s quite bizarre that he doesn’t call out these people for their racist views, or others that clearly sympathise with their plight, when he questions others who glorify war and death. For the most part, however, he faces history and present in an unflinching glare – if you can call Farrier ’s charming idiosyncrasies such.
The documentary never seems to come down on one side or the other about dark tourism – at some points, it challenges rich or vapid tourists who are attracted to the novelty factor of each destination, but at others it purports to understand and empathise with the forces that draw people to the locations. This nuanced view adds to the sense of exploration and discovery throughout the series, although it likely angers people who watch the show with a preformed opinion.
In The Firing Line
Some of the places Farrier visits are typical tourist destinations: Pablo Escobar’s turf in Medellín, Aokigahara in Japan, and Cypriot beaches. However, many other places see him and the crew in very immediate danger, such as radioactive sites in Japan and Kazakhstan, or catering to the whims of fringe groups and individuals like the aforementioned Suidlanders. It stands as a testament to their dedication to documenting these places and people that there are so many situations where you fear for their safety.
Over the course of the series, Farrier ’s ease of communication with the people he meets and their customs can be seen to increase. At points he seems completely at peace, even when being painted head to toe as part of a voodoo ritual or when training for post-apocalypse vigilanteism with hardened conspiracy theorists. The natural way he interacts and jokes with people attests to the respect shown to the people of varying faiths and beliefs visited – he doesn’t just tolerate these rituals but participates, encourages and learns from the experience. Where another show might treat these events or beliefs as curiosities to be documented and viewed in disbelief, as a sad number of other travel programs seem to do, Farrier ’s dedication to understanding the subjects of his travel always seem to shine a light on how and why people practice beliefs that differ to his.
The choice of framing each interaction through his perspective also lends an air of authenticity and authority. For a series that explores topics that are so deeply personal to each person – death, illness, and life – Farrier ’s reactions and interactions helps communicate the feelings and ideas related to the topic in a way that an ‘objective’ documentary wouldn’t.
While this great rapport can be attributed to Farrier’ s personable demeanour, his crew clearly deserves celebration too. They follow him boldly into the most dangerous situations, and clearly work some production magic in order to secure access to some impressive locations. Particularly commendable is the drone work used for many establishing and wide shots for locations visited – sweeping vistas and the odd quirks in land patterns and city layouts shown from the sky perfectly complement the sweeping but quirky topics explored in the accompanying narration.
It’s becoming apparent that 2018 is the year of non-fiction for Netflix. While The Cloverfield Paradox, Annihilation and Extinction have been received poorly, the likes of Wild, Wild Country, Nailed It! and now Dark Tourist have provided nuanced, novel and fascinating modes of entertainment. Whoever commissions non-fiction content for the platform must be feeling rather smug right now.
Dark Tourist would be great if it was just an amusing and entertaining array of cultures presented in a respectful way, but the fact that it manages to transcend its genre and explore and analyse what it actually means to travel makes for one of the most remarkable and profound travel shows ever made. The narrative manages to find the fine line between respecting other cultures whilst challenging problematic views, Farrier clearly builds rapport and connections with the people he visits, and it doesn’t hurt that there is some surprisingly fantastic cinematography too.
Simply put, Dark Tourist shouldn’t just be considered a seminal travel series, but it also earns its way into the pantheon of the best documentary shows.
To further understand and discuss the topics and locations explored on the series, I spoke with presenter David Farrier .
This is Tom Bedford with Film Inquiry. Thank you for taking the time to answer these questions for us – your series is a fascinating tour, both in terms of cultural and personal exploration.
Evidently you find dark tourism and the macabre side of history interesting, but what in particular inspired you to make this series? Was there one specific location or story that spurred your interest, or a collection of many examples of dark tourism?
David Farrier: When it comes to travel I definitely just like to be surprised and see things I haven’t seen before. The main thing I wanted to do when I visited Prague for the first time this year – this was after wrapping Dark Tourist – was to visit the Bone Church, this beautiful old Catholic church that employed a guy to pop a bunch of human bones up on the walls in all these ornate patterns in the the 1800s. And the thing is.. I wasn’t the only one there. I think increasingly a lot of people want to be surprised and not just laze by a pool reading a book when they visit a new place.
But to answer your question, Dark Tourist was the brainchild of Mark McNeill , who’s been making stuff in New Zealand for ages. He’s had the idea for years, and he’s just been carrying it around on his notepad forever. He saw my film Tickled a few years ago, and then thought I might be a good person to work with on the show. I loved the concept – using something like death and destruction as a way into a place, before making something that is hopefully much more life-affirming.
We wanted to surprise people and take them places they might not have seen before. And of course try and explore some of the murky issues that pop up around dark tourism. I think one of the early images we had in our mind were those around Pripyat, and a place in Mexico called the Island of the Dolls. Funnily enough we didn’t end up using those in series one. Maybe we’ll circle back.
In the show you’re open about destinations you didn’t make it to, such as your attempts to get to Famagusta in Cyprus. Was there anything else you wanted to explore in the show, but never managed to?
David Farrier: North Korea was always circling around – but we ended up getting very sidetracked with Turkmenistan. We had this once-in-a-lifetime chance to to get in there with cameras during our shooting schedule thanks to this outrageous Olympic event. Turkmenistan is the new hermit Kingdom almost, and has plenty of similarities. We were so happy to look around there – this new $5 billion dollar city in the middle of the desert. So much marble. We also toyed around going to Vozrozhdeniya Island – also known as anthrax island, but that came with some of its own issues. You know, anthrax and stuff. Look – let’s just say we have a big google doc of places that we’d like to get to one day.
You’re in many dangerous positions in the show, be it from humans, radiation or the supernatural. Were there any locations or trips that stood out during the filming show as particularly dangerous for you and the crew? And did you have any kind of emergency plan or assistance for filming in these dangerous locales?
David Farrier: I found McKamey manor uncomfortable – this torture house in America. Just because I honestly couldn’t tell how dangerous it was. It was hard to read. The stories around that place are just so confused – there are people that came out of there broken. You can see their stories all over YouTube. People go through and clearly get hurt by Russ McKamey – sometimes a lot. I spent three hours going through the consent forms, and signing those felt… not great.
Swimming in Atomic Lake in Kazakhstan probably wasn’t the wisest idea – or eating fish from there – but in general, safety was pretty important to us, and to the people we worked with on the ground around us. We had local security with us at certain points, and the people we worked with in each country were just so, so vital. You can’t just charge into a place and expect things to go smoothly. Working with locals was key, and also really rewarding. I feel like I made lots of new friends.
Dark Tourist is fantastic in how it doesn’t just explore Dark Tourist attractions but the phenomenon of Dark Tourism itself, and the way sometimes the ‘dark’ aspect of it is glorified to an extent – the most notable occasion is your visit to the orphanage in Kazakhstan, which confronts the forces that brought you to the country in the first place. How would you compare dark tourism to ‘standard’ tourism in terms of ethically and authentically exploring a place?
David Farrier: That orphanage and the work that goes on there was a combination of really heartbreaking, and also inspiring. Those doctors and nurses are incredible. And the kids! All smiles! That was a special and sobering day, and to highlight issues still faced by the people there after those atomic tests was pretty important. We wanted the show to challenge people, and that’s how that episode was structured. I mean, it’s a pretty fast paced, madcap sort of series – but we wanted to surprise viewers and bring them back to reality.
Dark Tourism is a complex area, and diverse – as you can see from the show. The line between entertainment and education is a big one for a lot of the tour operators, and tourists. Like, Narco tourism. There is huge debate raging about that in Medellín. Do people go there for the thrill and a selfie, or to learn? What about serial killer tours? A nuclear tour? A lot of it has to do with intent. People’s intent.
Our intent in the show was to go to these places where something horrific might have happened, poke some of the ethical issues, and then focus on the humanity around the sidelines. Dark Tourist , despite being about death, is a really positive show. The best part of this whole thing has been hearing from people in India and Argentina and Japan going “You missed this place! Come visit this bit of our history and meet me and let me show you this thing!” That’s the dream response.
At many points in the show, you state a desire to understand why people become dark tourists or engage in certain behaviours, such as Russ McKamey, the owned or McKamey Manor. After visiting many dark tourist hotspots, do you think you understand now? Would you consider yourself a Dark Tourist?
David Farrier: I’m definitely a dark tourist, although probably a fairly cowardly one! I think the reasons are really varied, but boil down to three things. We’re all terrified of death, so dark tourism is a good excuse to get up close to death, and process it a little bit. Secondly, there’s that thing in all of us that slows down when we pass a car crash because we’re curious what has happened. I’m not saying that’s a good reason to engage in dark tourism, but it’s a part of it. And finally I think people want to dive into another culture and learn about things and be challenged.
I spent plenty of time with Santa Muerte devotees in Mexico – whose main icon is death herself – and their attitude to death and drama was so incredibly healthy and wonderful to me. I feel proud we got to share that different take on death in a series that goes out so widely on such a big platform like Netflix.
You’re on record as having an interest in cryptozoology, however for the most part this doesn’t make its way into Dark Tourist . Is there a reason for this? Or are you perhaps saving it for Dark Tourist Season 2/ a different show?
David Farrier: I’ve always loved cryptozoology and this idea of exploring, looking for creatures written off by so many people. There are such characters involved with a giant passion for the unknown. There’s something quite majestic about it. I think it didn’t quite fit into the vibe of Dark Tourist … although now you say it, maybe we could explore Mokele-mbembe in the Congo – a rumoured dinosaur that’s apparently killed a few people.
Look, as long as we get to show off the splendid variety of things on this planet – and how different we all are and how we think about things – and this idea that YOU don’t necessarily have all the right answers – then I’m happy.
Film Inquiry thanks David Farrier for taking the time to talk with us.
Have you been to any dark tourist locations that Farrier would enjoy? Let us know in the comments below!
Dark Tourist was released on Netflix on July 20, 2018.
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Tom is a recent graduate based in the UK, who writes about films and games, and makes a few of his own. If he's not watching a film, playing a game or writing a script - don't worry! - he's probably just gone to make a cup of tea. He's never far from a screen.
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‘dark tourist’: tv review.
New Zealand's David Farrier takes Netflix viewers around the world on vacations too dark, blood-drenched, radiation-filled and tragedy-adjacent for the average holiday-goer in 'Dark Tourist.'
By Daniel Fienberg
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It isn’t until the eighth episode of New Zealand journalist and filmmaker David Farrier’s new Netflix series, Dark Tourist , that somebody mentions Louis Theroux.
As befits the oddness of Dark Tourist , the interview subject who aptly brings up the British documentarian behind Louis Theroux’s Weird Weekends and My Scientology Movie , is Michael Channels, who coasted a wave of fame last fall as a 30-year-old pen pal to Charles Manson and alleged owner of a Manson will.
Air date: Jul 20, 2018
Amused in this context to be asked why he was trying to be Louis Theroux, Farrier laughs and agrees: “I’m like the cheap version of Louis Theroux.”
Jokes aside, Farrier ( Tickled ) is probably correct that Dark Tourist plays as a slightly less in-depth version of the sort of quirkily humorous, frequently murky immersive nonfiction journeys Theroux has built a career upon. That’s probably OK, because Theroux isn’t so prolific that there isn’t room for the kind of investigation-meets-comedy-meets-light-anthropology that Farrier practices in Dark Tourist . The series isn’t always focused or consistent, but it’s got ample strangeness and droll laughs, and every once in a while it packs an unexpected emotional punch.
The lack of consistency is hardly surprising. Farrier seems to begin every episode, before a wonderfully macabre animated credit sequence, with a very slightly different definition of what “dark tourism” even is. That definition is usually so strained by the end of 40 minutes that it takes bent-over-backward voiceover narration to impose a theme on his adventures.
'in search of': tv review.
So what is dark tourism? It’s the phenomenon of people vacationing in places associated with death and destruction, though Farrier even expands the definition to encompass general “strangeness” as well. He never gets quite so far as to open up the definition to include any trip too inconvenient for any normal person lacking the resources provided by a TV budget, press credentials and the door-opening magic of a video camera. Probably he should. There’s nothing all that dark about attending a press conference and rocket launch at Baikonur, the birthplace of the Soviet space program. Even Farrier’s attempt to add morbidity to the equation by musing that the rocket in question looks technologically behind the curve doesn’t change the fact that this particular expedition, though it might be complicated or out of the logistical reaches of your typical traveler, is something that most people would just describe it as cool.
Mostly, Farrier keeps within a more justifiable range. Over the eight episodes, he continent-hops around the globe, and a number of recurring “dark tourist” variations occur. In the two episodes in the United States, for example, serial killer tours catch his attention, following in the footsteps of Jeffrey Dahmer in Milwaukee and Charles Manson in Los Angeles. He’s got a thing for areas of high radiation and wanders, Geiger counter clicking aggressively, through a nuclear test site in Kazakhstan and dangerously close to the radiation-tainted ruins of the 2011 earthquake in Fukushima. Doomsday preppers pop up in multiple episodes, whether as virulently racist, distressingly friendly white separatists in South Africa or more garden-variety American extremists in Virginia.
Farrier likes hastily evacuated ghost towns, whether they were cleared after military conflicts in Cyprus or an economic collapse in Japan. He’s also a sucker for eerily tourist-free capitals erected at tremendous expense by dictatorial regimes, be they in Myanmar or Turkmenistan. When watched in a batch, the episodes gives you a feel for Farrier’s preferred rhythms. He usually starts with a touristy version of a ritual and then wonders if what he just did was too touristy before booking an intimate visit with a practitioner of esoteric customs. Another pattern involves the frequency with which Farrier walks into a situation involving animal sacrifice and gets squeamish.
Beyond revealing his repeated tropes and platitudes, the episodes collectively showcase Farrier’s sense of humor. He’s extremely droll, a tactic that allows him to outright insult more than a couple of subjects, who simply don’t notice. He’s also very good at setting himself up as a fool so that he can learn a valuable lesson, like when he accidentally calls a South African township visit a “slum tour” before apologizing extensively in the next segment, or when he narcs on his tour’s coyote in a Mexican border-crossing stunt filled with moments both harrowing and giggle-inducing. He’s intellectual and foolhardy in nearly equal measure, slightly favoring the latter approach.
Farrier is unquestionably voyeuristic and exploitative in certain moments, with a corpse-exhuming Indonesian funeral ceremony providing the most eyebrow-raising bits. But you sense he’s doing this to emphasize a characteristic of dark tourism, and he tries to expose his own ignorance and dig deeper. He doesn’t always succeed. Sometimes the ingrained colonialism of his visits becomes unavoidable, even for someone who’s himself a resident of a former colony. But he tries.
'Who Is America?': TV Review
Farrier is very good at recruiting unlikely and outrageous tour guides, like Pablo Escobar’s favored assassin during a trip to Colombia, or insinuating himself into a situation in a way that gives astounding access, like when a chat with a disturbing British museum operator ends with a phone call to the notorious criminal played by Tom Hardy in the movie Bronson . I often wished he would spend more time trying to learn more about his fellow tourists, since those are the relationships that yield the most powerful beats, like the climax of that trip to the atomic wasteland of Kazakhstan.
It’s possible that a clearer definition of dark tourism will evolve as Farrier keeps going and keeps refining. I’m still waiting for an understanding of whether, for example, a Jew traveling to ghettos and concentration camps in Eastern Europe is a dark tourist or a cultural tourist or something Farrier is wisely leaving out of the purview of this show.
These eight episodes are a reasonable starter set of vacations you’d never want to go on, tours you’d be too perplexed to take, museums too weird to visit and a few places just enticing enough to make you investigate a booking for your next holiday. Not bad for a cheap version of Louis Theroux.
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Dark Tourist season 1, episode 3 recap: ‘United States’
In episode 3 of netflix series dark tourist, david farrier visits america for a serial killer tour, takes jfk’s motorcade route and meets self-proclaimed vampires..
America’s often called “The greatest country in the world.” While that may seem arrogant to some, being boastful and proud is part of the American tradition. “Love it or leave it” isn’t just for patriotic bumper stickers.
It’s how a lot of us feel, knowing we should stick by our home and take the good with the bad. Dark Tourist dives deeper into some of the darker histories within this country.
What kind of bad is there in these United States? Well, as David Farrier shows us in Dark Tourist , some of the bad to be had involves serial killers.
The United States is rather notorious for this phenomenon, and one of the leading figures in American serial killer legend is Milwaukee, Wisconsin’s own, Jeffrey Dahmer. In fact, as Farrier suggests, Dahmer is about as noteworthy as Milwaukee’s beer and cheese (2 staples of the stereotypical American diet).
Farrier wants to attend a Jeffrey Dahmer tour, so he can learn more about the notorious killer, and see what all the fuss is about.
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Jeffrey dahmer – cannibal, tourist attraction…heartthrob.
It turns out that Dahmer has people who are basically fans. David meets Natalie, who is basically a Dahmer fanatic. She notes some things that make him unique, even among serial killers. He not only was a cannibal but also attempted lobotomies to change men into mindless sex-zombies. According to Natalie, Dahmer was not a sadist, because he drugged his victims (what a relief!). Quite randomly, Natalie shares that she keeps a skull in her bag, named “Juan Diego.” She assures us that it was legally acquired and that she’s not a murderer herself (again, what a relief!).
Next, Natalie and Farrier head out to Shaker’s bar considered a “hub of the Dahmer tour.” When asked about Dahmer, some women seem attracted to him, despite his being a gay serial killer. Why? Because, as some women say, “serial killers are definitely bad boys,” and women supposedly want to help everybody change (or die trying, perhaps).
In fact, quite interestingly, the Dahmer segment of this episode is dominated by women. It’s almost as though they have a unique insight into his character — which is weird, given that, statistically, women are far less likely to be violent themselves. Whatever the reason, the so-called “Cream City Cannibal Tour” actually provides bachelorette parties.
David then heads to Club 219, a club frequented by Dahmer. This is where David and Natalie hit a snag, as they’re annoyed by a corny psychic who claims to speak to Dahmer as she waves metal “divining rods” around. In fact, it seems to drive the two away from the tour, as they go to meet Wendy A. Patrickus, Dahmer’s actual Lawyer (from when he was alive, obviously). Much more real than a psychic street performance, Wendy provides some actual insight into Dahmer as he really was.
She specifies that, in preparing his ghoulish meals, Dahmer got a meat tenderizer from Sears and treated people just as we would steaks. She even shows Dahmer’s “shrine drawings” — childish sketches of skulls and other freakish things, intended as a monument to Dahmer’s greatness, to be built in his own apartment. Wendy also plays portions of a Dahmer interview, as further proof that she means business.
How American is Jeffrey Dahmer? Well, he’s proof that we live in a small world, and such ghoulish phenomena can happen even in our own Midwest. In fact, one of my own cousins (who I won’t name here) claims he was almost a Dahmer victim. I believe him, too, as he lived in West Allis, Wisconsin at the time, which is more specifically within Dahmer’s field of operations. In other words, some of us probably dodge bullets without fully realizing it. As David Farrier says, “We’re all sickos.”
Dallas, TX: JFK Tours
Texas is a unique place. Some say it’s almost like its own country. It’ also where JFK — often called one of our greatest Presidents — famously got assassinated. It was a key moment in American history, and David Farrier wants to “re-live” JFK’s motorcade route. Honestly, though, who could blame him? It is certainly a piece of our history and as famous a location as any on this earth.
However, David’s tour guide, Robin, complicates the narrative a little. Like many Americans, he has his own theories on what happened that fateful day. He believes multiple people tried to kill the President, and that it wasn’t just Lee Harvey Oswald. Robin takes the assassination pretty seriously. In fact, David calls him a “walking, talking Wikipedia page.”
He also says he feels like he’s stuck in a car with his eccentric uncle. In a possible breach of etiquette, David even asks Robin if he started the tours because his family’s sick of hearing his conspiracy theories. Fortunately, Robin is a good-humored man and takes no detectable offense.
What does Robin specifically believe? He thinks the plot was perpetrated by the CIA and the Mafia. David is respectful of Robin, noting that he’s “not in it for the money.” Nevertheless, he eventually has enough and quietly slipped away from the tour. Interestingly, Robin is also a funeral home director, in case you didn’t feel this “Dark Tourist” episode was dark enough.
David also gets a JFK tour from a guy named Ricardo, whose interest is more in entertaining than informing the participants. It has its share of darkness, too. For example, Ricardo notes how Jackie Kennedy (played by an actress) is afraid to move her head for fear that more brain matter will spill out. It’s a potentially offensive scene, but what can one say? That’s the nature of dark tourism and Dark Tourist. They don’t call it “Light Tourist,” right?
New Orleans Vampires
Renowned for Jazz music, Cajun cooking, and Mardi Gras, New Orleans also has vampire tours.
In fact, David Farrier meets a guy named Maven (or who at least calls himself that), who sells fangs for a living — a “fangsmith.” When Farrier asked Maven if he’s a vampire, Maven answers: “Would a predator tell its prey what it is?” Touché, Mayven! Touché!
Being a good sport, David acquires fangs himself, then attends what he calls “a real vampire wedding” between Logan and Daley. The couple is attractive enough, looking very much like something out of a conventional, romantic vampire movie.
Still, David wants to get to the gritty truth: Do they actually drink human blood? It turns out that, yes, they sometimes do. Logan actually does drink a willing woman’s blood, which Daley has no problem with. In fact, they both seem to be into it. That’s just the thing, though.
David doesn’t feel they actually need to drink blood to survive, and that it’s more of a sexual thing. While he doesn’t feel betrayed, he seems a bit let down, as he wants to see people who are unquestionably genuine vampires — as opposed to attractive couples doing it for kicks.
So, David sets out to find other, more plausible vampires. When he finds such a habitat, he’s similarly struck by how human they seem. For example, he notes how, “Despite living forever, apparently vampires still celebrate birthdays.” Indeed, these vampires seem less like showoffs, and a little more authentic in what they do. If anything, they may try to look more normal.
Still, they take on some unique names. One is named “Zar,” for example. While it may seem a stylized name, it does remind me of a character from the 1980s movie Mask, starring Cher, Eric Stoltz, and Sam Elliott as a biker dude named “Gar.” In any case, Zar seems normal enough.
As David puts it: “It’s surprisingly stress-free hanging out with vampires.” That doesn’t mean it’s 100% normal, though. At one point, Zar chants and spits alcohol out of his front door to ward off spirits, in what he calls an authentic Voodoo ritual.
We also get to meet a young man named Donovan — a first-time donor to Zar. When asked if there’s a sexual component to the blood-drinking, or if it’s a game, Zar assures us that it isn’t. While he happens to be homosexual, Donovan is not. It’s no game.
The blood is said to have some life-sustaining (or at least life-enhancing) properties. In fact, Zar claims he needs 6 ounces of blood sometimes! David is there to catch the action, because no one ever said, “6 ounces a day keep a dark tourist away.”
If Zar goes too long without the red stuff, he claims his hair will be “dull and lifeless,” his eyes will glaze over, it will be hard for him to focus.
While some might try a new shampoo or certain vitamins, Zar finds blood more suitable. In addressing the strangeness of it all, Zar quotes Anjelica Huston from the Addams Family: “What’s normal for the spider is chaos to the fly.” So, as David reflects on blood and ice cream cake, he notes that these vampires are all outsiders.
Fortunately, they don’t burst into flame during the sunrise. That’s presumably more of a vampire stereotype.
That’s it for this Dark Tourist recap! What do you think about Jeffrey Dahmer, JFK, and vampires? Let us know in the comments!
- Published on 08/18/2018 at 8:04 PM EST
- Last updated on 11/25/2019 at 2:32 PM EST
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