It’s hard to believe it’s been almost a year since White Lines dropped on Netflix. Set on the picturesque Balearic Islands and boasting some truly stunning cinematography, the mystery thriller starring Laura Haddock was as close as many of us could get to a holiday abroad in 2020. Netflix ultimately chose not to renew the mystery thriller, but this follow-up project from writer Álex Pina stays firmly in the same lane, setting up another chaotic and darkly comedic crime saga.
We’re whisked away to Tenerife for Sky Rojo, but the luxury villas and euphoric raves of White Lines are ditched in favour of a barren desert landscape, where Coral (Verónica Sánchez), Gina (Yany Prado) and Wendy (Lali Espósito) are held prisoner in an opulent brothel run by their loathsome pimp, Romeo (Asier Etxeandía). Pushed to breaking point by his cruel threats and lies, the women team up to take down their captor and go on the run from his dangerous henchmen, Moisés (Miguel Ángel Silvestre) and Christian (Enric Auquer). On paper, Sky Rojo sounds as if it should be a rather bleak affair but, for the most part, the series avoids becoming too heavy by balancing its serious themes with a pulpy sense of humour.
The three leads are instrumental in establishing this anarchic tone, displaying an energetic chemistry with one another and some sharp comic timing. Sánchez is particularly strong in this regard and has no shortage of opportunities to demonstrate it, as Coral has perhaps the most fragile grip on her sanity of all the runaway group. The perspective shifts in each episode as Pina gradually reveals the heartbreaking stories that led each woman to their desperate plight, with the core trio benefitting from some strong character work in the four episodes released early to critics.
While the henchmen also show promise, they don’t feel quite as well-realised just yet – partly because their big-brother-little-brother dynamic has been seen countless times before and Pina fails to find a particularly fresh angle on it. Additionally, Silvestre’s Moisés is gifted with more screen time and stronger material than Auquer’s Christian, so hopefully an effort is made to correct this imbalance in the latter half. But what they lack in depth they make up for in menace as their mere presence is often enough to inject a scene with gripping intensity.
Sky Rojo doesn’t hold anything back with its tongue-in-cheek attitude towards violence similar to that of a Tarantino film, resulting in some of the more brutal moments being played for laughs. However, the series is also unflinching in its depiction of coerced sex work and this is where it makes for more disturbing viewing. These scenes occasionally feel gratuitous, but an argument could be made for them serving a narrative purpose – offering a visceral insight into the horror that Coral, Gina, Wendy and their fellow captives have been forced to endure. You’ll have to make your own mind up on that debate, but viewers should be aware of these moments as they may prove upsetting to some people.
It should come as no surprise that the writer of White Lines and Money Heist knows how to set up a high-stakes, slightly eccentric crime story. Sky Rojo should go down well with fans of Pina’s recent work and might be his most unruly series to date as a lean runtime of just 25 minutes per episode forces him to move at a breakneck pace. There’s a discussion to be had over whether the series should have exercised more restraint in certain scenes, but the story has packed enough emotional punch so far to instil faith in its approach.