10 Terrifying yet Beautiful International Crime Shows

L.M. Harter
TV Streaming
TV Streaming Netflix

Over the past few years, producers have been pairing gruesome murders with idyllic settings, and as viewers, we can’t get enough. Combine some handsome, gruff detectives, macabre tableaux of death, and beautifully eerie cinematography and you have all the ingredients for a great night in with some amazing international crime shows.

Fortitude (Arctic Circle)

The fictional town of Fortitude.
The fictional town of Fortitude.

Who knew blood on snow could look so beautiful? Obviously the creators of Fortitude, a genre-splitting drama set in the remote Arctic starring heavy hitters like Richard Dormer and Stanley Tucci. The beautiful but bleak landscape adds to the existential threat wrought by an unseen malevolent mystical force.

Richard Dormer in Fortitude
Richard Dormer in 'Fortitude.'

It is difficult to describe the tone of Fortitude because there really isn’t another show out there that can match its gorgeous brutality. A small town inhabited by people hiding from their pasts is reminiscent of Broadchurch, its blue tones look like The Killing‘s forgotten brother, its monsters straight out of The Thing. Be ready for some traumatic and intense twists along the way.

Where To Find It: Amazon

Shetland (Scottish Isles)

Douglas Henshall as Jimmy Perez in Shetland
Douglas Henshall as Jimmy Perez in 'Shetland.'

Detective Inspector Jimmy Perez tries to maintain the delicate balance of respecting his close-knit community’s privacy and solving the occasional island murder, uncovering secrets along the way. His quiet, mannered stoicism is a nice break from the stereotypical, arrogant “on the case” kind of detective. He is the kind of cop we all actually want — someone who is invested in his community, a committed father, and patiently kind.

Shetland

Probably the most pleasant show that involves murder, Shetland has a stunning backdrop that highlights the juxtaposition of pastoral beauty with the darker side of human nature.

Where To Find It: Netflix

Cardinal (Canada)

Billy Campbell in 'Cardinal.'
Billy Campbell in 'Cardinal.'

Billy Campbell plays veteran homicide detective John Cardinal, a man struggling in his new department after being transferred due to his unusual and, according to his superiors, obsessive, approach to solving crimes. His compassion for marginalized people, including those often struggling with mental illness, is nice to see. The writers play off the natural suspicions that arise from someone who cares about those that others often dismiss.

Cardinal cast

Cardinal truly highlights the Canadian landscape, specifically its seasons. The first season takes place during the winter and feels like Wind River or Fortitude with its snow and geographic isolation. But the second season showcases Canada’s summer, which is as lush and green as it was bleak and white previously.

Where To Find It: Hulu

The Loch (Scotland)

Loch

Like many on this list, The Loch is so named for its location: the tourist town known for being the home of the Loch Ness Monster. This version of Loch Ness has its monsters, just not ones that live under the lake. Murders are rare in Loch Ness, and macabre organ removal is even rarer, leading small town detective Annie Redford to be partnered with a serial killer expert from Glasgow after earning her place on the elite team.

The Loch

The near constant rain paints a dreary but charming backdrop for the rather horrid murders and their ghoulish stagings. Everyone seems to have something to hide, with some secrets being more brutal than others.

Where To Find It: Netflix

Hidden (Wales)

'Hidden's opening scene.
'Hidden's opening scene.

This Welsh noir visually stuns from the first frame. DI Cadi John returns home to take care of her ailing father, a former police chief. She is immediately called to investigate the body of a young girl who went missing for six years prior, and was likely kept shackled the entire time. Similar to another great crime drama, Unforgotten, the series tracks the victims, suspects, and investigators through many aspects of their lives, creating a nuanced and well-rounded perspective.

Sian Reese-Williams in Hidden

If Hidden feels familiar, it might be due to it being another collaboration between Hinterland‘s writer and producer, Mark Andrew and Ed Taflan.

Where To Find It: BBC Four and BBC One Wales

Hinterland (Wales)

Richard Harrington as Tom Mathias in 'Hinterland.'
Richard Harrington as Tom Mathias in 'Hinterland.'

Another Welsh entry, Hinterland has the most sensitive protagonist, with Richard Harrington starring as DCI Tom Mathias. It’s a refreshing deviation from the typical surly detectives (we still love you David Tennant!), as he uses his empathy, especially with the victims, to solve violent murders.

So much running in 'Hinterland.'
So much running in 'Hinterland.'

Two odd quirks to keep an eye out for are Harrington’s literal running with a flashlight in almost every episode, and constantly being hit on the head by assailants and getting knocked out. It’s not as weird as everyone on Madam Secretary eating ice cream with a fork, but still fun to track.

Additional Fun Fact: Every scene was shot twice — once in English and once in Welsh.

Where to Find It: Netflix

Deep Water (Australia)

Yael Stone and Noah Taylor in 'Deep Water.'
Yael Stone and Noah Taylor in 'Deep Water.'

Led by Orange is the New Black star Yael Stone, Deep Water is based on a harrowing true story, and probably the sunniest when it comes to cinematography. It is downright perky in its high saturation. Don’t be deceived into thinking this could be a Psych episode, however — its subject matter is equally gritty and infuriating.

Deep Water

Unlike most crime procedurals, this series focuses on marginalized victims and how often their deaths are overlooked or blatantly ignored, specifically the murders of gay men near Bondi Beach left unsolved by decades of police negligence.

Yael Stone in 'Deep Water.'
Yael Stone in 'Deep Water.'

Stone carries the narrative as Detective Tori Lustigman, showing a versatile acting range with the onscreen presence of an effective leading lady.

Where To Find It: Netflix

Top of the Lake (New Zealand)

Top of the Lake

Developed and directed by the talented Jane Champion, Top of the Lake‘s first season is one of the most gorgeous seasons of television. New Zealand has a rough, wild beauty to it which is captured expertly by Champion — yet another established film director crossing over to the small screen.

Top of the Lake mountainous landscape.

Elizabeth Moss stars as a troubled detective investigating the disappearance of a pregnant 12-year-old girl. Moss has been killing it since her Mad Men days, with this role earning her a much deserved Golden Globe win.

Top of the Lake Season One

The sophomore season takes a hard pivot away from rural New Zealand to mainland Sydney, Australia, while adding Nicole Kidman and Gwendoline Christie to the cast. Aside from Moss’s consistent performance, it feels like an entirely different show. It doesn’t quite capture the magic of Season 1, but it’s worth the watch all the same.

Top of the Lake Season Two

Champion switches to a gritty, urban point of view, a focus on the anonymity that a large city offers, for better or worse.

Where To Find It: Netflix

Broadchurch (Great Britain)

Broadchurch

Broadchurch is a moody and melancholic show whose first two seasons focused on the murder of a young boy. The latest season tackles a new heinous crime with new sketchy characters (while still touching back on characters from prior seasons). Though not as graphically gruesome as other shows on this list, the subject matter is dark enough to leave an unsettling impression.

David Tennant in 'Broadchurch.'
David Tennant in 'Broadchurch.'

When talking Broadchurch, people usually focus on David Tennant’s gruff detective Alec Hardy, but they shouldn’t overlook the very human, very relatable character of Ellie Miller, played by the fantastic Olivia Colman (whose next major role will be taking over as Queen Elizabeth in The Crown).

If Season 2’s courtroom drama wasn’t a good fit, definitely check out the third series as it feels more like the premiere season and resets the narrative.

Where To Find It: Netflix

Castle Rock (America)

Castle Rock

Outside of The Shining, Stephen King’s world has never looked as good as it does in Castle Rock. The fictional town of Castle Rock is the obvious star: brooding, secretive, and dangerous.

Bill Skarsgard in 'Castle Rock.'
Bill Skarsgard in 'Castle Rock.'

Following up his interpretation of the iconic clown from It, Bill Skarsgard stars alongside Andre Holland in this creepy, atmospheric show. Be prepared for some jump scares that will probably startle your cat but not you. Definitely not you.

Nope.

Castle Rock

Where To Find It: Hulu

L.M. Harter
An award winning writer living in Austin, Texas: lover of gin, sleep and TV
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