THE SERPENT is a Netflix Thriller Mini-Series about serial killer Charles Sobhraj. In other words, we’re in true-crime but with one of the best disclaimers, I’ve ever seen, prefacing every one of the 8 episodes. Read our full The Serpent series review here!
THE SERPENT is a new Netflix mini-series about the serial killer Charles Sobhraj. He has at least 12 murder victims on his conscience – or rather, he doesn’t seem to have a conscience. Also, he isn’t a serial killer in the classic sense, but we’ll get to that later in this review.
We watched all 8 episodes in this limited series, which was very easy since they are extremely binge-worthy. However, a fair warning would be to also tell you that it is very brutal!
Continue reading our The Serpent series review below and find it on Netflix.
Serial Killer by accident
While Charles Sobhraj is a serial killer, he didn’t kill out of lust or directly sadistic ways. Instead, he killed people to take their money (and other valuables) along with their passports. He alters passports and uses them to trace across borders undetected. And, of course, he can never get enough money.
Also, he hates hippies but constantly befriends them only to drug them, then rob them, and finally kill them to get rid of the evidence. I would also say that he clearly enjoys the power of having them at his mercy, but you’ll see that for yourself.
So many amazing performances
The title role of Charles Sobhraj (or Alain Gautier, as he’s referred to for most of the episodes) is played by Tahar Rahim. This is one hell of a performance from him and I’m really excited about watching him in The Mauritanian now. A role he was nominated for a Golden Globe for.
His performance in The Serpent is also one that could easily earn him several award nominations. The way he is so calm in the craziest of times speaks volumes. As his girlfriend – and often less than willing partner in crime – we see Monique, who is really named Marie-Andrée Leclerc, but they use aliases in their game.
Monique is played by Jenna Coleman who is exactly as brilliant as she was in The Cry (read our review here). You might feel for her at times, but ultimately, she also allows herself to become a part of the sick crimes. Amesh Edireweera plays the role of Ajay, who is another accomplice of Alain/Charles. I believe he’s a newcomer but he is equally amazing.
As the Dutch embassy employee who goes after Charles Sobhraj – and builds the case against him – we have Herman Knippenberg. He’s played wonderfully by Billy Howle (Outlaw King) and I can’t falter his performance at all. His wife, Angela, is portrayed by Ellie Bamber (Nocturnal Animals) who is often the heart of this series.
Overall, there are many characters (mostly based on real-life people) in this limited series and the performances by all actors are remarkable. Everything about this series is done with care and feels earnest in its depiction of the events.
The real-life story of a serial killer
Since The Serpent mini-series on Netflix is about a real person, this thriller series is in the true-crime subgenre. This subgenre has (appropriately) been under some fire for not respecting the victims.
For that reason alone, I was pleased with the very informative and honest disclaimer shown clearly before each episode. Honestly, every true-crime production should do this. Especially when taking the dramatic liberties that most non-documentaries (as well as some docu-series) must.
Remember, while this series is about the serial killer Charles Sobhraj (who went by Alain Gautier while committing most crimes), it is also about all the people who worked with and for him. Obviously, it’s also about the victims and with The Serpent, you will get to see quite a lot about the victims and the people chasing him – to bring him to justice – as well.
Chronological with storytelling via flashbacks
While you only see many victims in glimpses at first, this series works a lot with flashbacks. These flashbacks are always clearly labeled since we’re told when in the timeline, a moment takes place. This made it very easy to follow. Well, I thought so anyway, but I do also give movies and series my full attention when I watch.
Essentially, a lot of stories begin in one place, go back to trace the origin of the events in various ways, and then go back and continues from where they originally began. This might sound strange or confusing, but it really isn’t when you’re constantly told when in the timeline, we are.
The flashbacks have two main purposes. First, they’re used to explain how people come to work with – or rather for – Alain Gautier (Charles Sobhraj’s alias). Secondly, the flashbacks show us how the victims came to fall prey to his sadistic and greedy ways.
Don’t miss The Serpent mini-series on Netflix
The Serpent was written by Richard Warlow (creator of Ripper Street) and Toby Finlay (Dorian Gray, 2009). The eight episodes were directed by two directors with four episodes directed by the Belgian director Hans Herbots. The other four were directed by Tom Shankland who’s directed on House of Cards and Ripper Street.
I can’t find much wrong with this series at all. The eight episodes tell the story chronologically while taking care to show the events leading up to each brutal moment. Also, I appreciated the time spent showing who the victims were and that people cared for them.
All while also taking the time to note the fact that people expect resources to be used on two Europeans that might be missing while traveling in Thailand. Meanwhile, Thai people are also killed every day and Vietnamese war refugees are escaping to this country. Another important issue worth noting!
Also, episode 8 ends with pictures of many real-life people and gives an update on their lives. Most of the people who got away from Charles Sobhraj (or helped catch him) went on to live good lives. You don’t want to miss this since it – once again – reminds you that all the events in this series are based on very real crimes.
The Serpent is out on Netflix with all eight episodes from April 2, 2021.
Director: Tom Shankland and Hans Herbots
Writers: Richard Warlow and Toby Finlay
Stars: Tahar Rahim, Jenna Coleman, Billy Howle, Ellie Bamber, Amesh Edireweera, Tim McInnerny
Posing as a gem dealer, Charles Sobhraj and his girlfriend Marie-Andrée Leclerc travelled across Thailand, Nepal and India in 1975 and 1976, carrying out a spree of crimes on the Asian ‘Hippie Trail,’ becoming the chief suspects in a series of murders of young Western travellers. When Herman Knippenberg, a junior diplomat at the Dutch Embassy in Bangkok, unwittingly walks into this intricate web of crime, he – with the help of his spouse Angela, police around the world and witnesses of Sobhraj’s devious manipulation – sets off an extraordinary chain of events that will see Sobhraj become Interpol’s most wanted man, with arrest warrants in multiple continents.
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