Serial killer and Netflix live a great love story. After the success of several documentaries on the subject, the streaming platform teamed up with the BBC to produce a mini-series about the so-called “The Serpent”. In that role, a Tahar Rahim is unrecognizable.
Netflix knows that its customers are serial killers. From documentaries like the one in Ted Bundy to fiction like You, all kinds of killers fascinate and become the pinnacle of streaming platform glory. It is therefore not surprising to see him interested, in partnership with the BBC, in the story of Charles Sobhraj.
In the 1970s between Thailand, Nepal and India, these naturalized French Vietnamese-Indians tricked and killed several tourists walking the Asian hippie trail. Nicknamed “The Serpent” or “bikini killer”, he pretends to be a gem dealer and pulls the net, with charm and assurance, his potential victims, whose identities he doesn’t shy away from stealing. Accompanied by his girlfriend, Marie-Andrée Leclerc, a Canadian, and by his best friend Ajay Chowdhury, he allegedly killed eighteen people.
The eight-episode miniseries can be divided into three segments: the murder of Charles, aka Alain Gauthier, his relationship with Marie-Andrée, aka Monique, and the investigation led by the secretary of the Dutch embassy, Herman Knippenberg. The whole thing is intertwined in the episode through many flashbacks.
At first glance, this choice of narrative appears to be quite an interesting idea. He gives the story a lot of speed by pairing investigations with murders. We sometimes find ourselves in Herman’s head finding with dread the level of crime, sometimes in Charles doing it. Not only are we quick to get to the heart of the matter, but it carries a certain suspense because the assassins almost become characters, like the killers.
Nevertheless, narrative maneuvers deserve to be used more sparingly. The concern is that this back and forth happens continuously, almost acting as a transition between the two scenes. It is enough to be negligent for two seconds and miss the time indication panel to get lost. Clever at first, the process becomes laborious, even fictional when it emerges as a hide-and-seek to avoid dwelling on certain narrative flaws. Concern for explanations of character actions or reactions? A jump back or forward and we move on.
The same goes for the staging, which constantly oscillates between a perfectly transcribed atmosphere, with photos that would be reminiscent of the early days of Narcos, and close-ups that almost goofy provide a somewhat telenovela aspect. We had the feeling of being in a Manichean show, good and bad ideas going head-to-head on pitch against pitch.
Snakes never linger and this is the biggest problem. If the series is effective in terms of the suspense surrounding Charles’ actions, Herman’s investigation or the hunt that will follow, people will never take the time to get interested in the souls of the characters. We look at what they do and how it affects them, but we’re having a hard time investing in why; justification is scarce. Main victim: Marie-Andrée. British actress Jenna Coleman looks great despite her fake Quebecois accent, but her role suffers from a cruel lack of explanation.
Sometimes manipulated, sometimes manipulative, sometimes an accomplice, sometimes a victim, “Monique” seems to be rewritten in every scene. There is a difference between what this series wants to present to us and what we see. Should we appreciate it? Poor her? Cursing him in the same way as his friends? We don’t know because the show avoided giving us too many details, letting it go through the motions with Charles. As a result, instead of getting involved in his situation (or Herman’s situation), we especially tend to get annoyed trying to understand why it’s out of reach.
If you lose just one creature and they all decrease, the reverse is also true. The proof, despite all our comments about Le Serpent, there is a name that allows us to enjoy our stay: Tahar Rahim.
The French actor who is used to the role of the good man finds his match here. Make-up, wigs, facial prostheses, sunglasses with dark lenses, he’s unrecognizable as a cold-blooded killer. Charismatic, cold, friendly, manipulative, he manages to be perfect at the same time. No wonder the entire cast or intrigue revolved around him, he really lived on the show. We had a hard time recognizing the actor behind the killer at the start, we’d completely forget about it in the end. In this game, The Serpent has successfully changed its skin.