In the opening scene of La Mante TV series, the new French thriller on Netflix, the camera slowly pans across cars arriving at a crime scene. On a tree stump in the foreground, a praying mantis eats the corpse of its victim, an indication of what’s to come. While the culprit in La Mante doesn’t cannibalize, Hannibal Lecter comes to mind at times in this smart psychological thriller featuring two serial killers, one from the past, one in the present. Like a mantis, we devoured the episodes, though not quite in a single sitting.
Pascal Demolon plays Detective Dominique Feracci, a Parisian cop formerly part of the team from the strange case of The Mantis (La Mante), a rare female serial killer. La Mante, Jeane Deber, is in jail for the twenty-plus-year-old crimes, but a copycat is at work. The three killings discovered so far replicate the original murders in very specific – not to mention bloody and gruesome – ways.
Deber (Carole Bouquet, a Bond girl in For Your Eyes Only) knows of the new crimes, and offers to help Feracci track down the copycat killer. She’s got conditions though, primarily that her son serve as point of contact throughout the investigation.
Deber’s son was traumatized by her arrest – he was 10 at the time – and his identity has been hidden all these years. Turns out he’s an undercover cop, Damien Carrot (Fred Testot), with a loving, supportive wife and adoring stepdaughter who know nothing of his big secret. Reluctantly, he agrees to a transfer in order to lead the investigation under Feracci’s supervision.
As part of this unusual setup, Deber is isolated in a remote, elegant facility where Carrot visits to receive cryptic insights from his mother. What are her motives for helping? To reconnect with her son, catch the copycat, or to relive the crimes she committed? These are only some of the questions and complexities that make up La Mante.
As in most French thrillers, La Mante’s cops are a casual, somewhat disheveled crew. Infighting and resentment arise as Szophia, an experienced investigator, is passed over to put Carrot in charge. Adding to the tension, Feracci agrees the others don’t need to know Carrot’s family history. At times, the two of them lead their own private investigation. Szophia questions their seemingly strange decisions.
More layers and details exist within La Mante’s storyline, waiting to unravel. Tension and suspicion build in Carrot’s home and family. Characters from his past emerge. The cops follow red herrings and remain perplexed. And, of course, the killings continue.
La Mante is stylish, but its artful presentation never dominates the story. Despite a few bloody, mangled corpses, actual violence is limited to a few intense scenes, including a nod or two to Stephen King. The suspense stays mostly psychological, and, by French TV series standards, the emotional drama is restrained.
Bouquet reminds us of Charlotte Rampling in her portrayal of La Mante. There’s a slight resemblance, but it’s more the elegant presence and emotion taking place beneath the surface. Several steps ahead of everyone else, she remains icy and aloof. The only signs of thawing are when her son is near.
La Mante deserves a place among the best foreign TV series of 2017, though it arrived a week too late to make our list. (The same happened with The Break last year.) Alexandre Laurent directed the series; a team of writers share credit for La Mante. Netflix is streaming all six episodes, 50 – 60 minutes each. We’re hungry for more.