Netflix’s Serial-Killer Drama is Pretentious and Camp-Free. Surprise! It’s French.
In the opening moments of Netflix’s French serial killer drama La Mante (The Mantis) a cop squad finds an emasculated corpse in a sawmill. Ferraci (Pascal Demolon), the squad’s leader, likes wearing vests and sport jackets with jeans. He’s seen this before. It’s the work of a copycat.
Enter The Mantis (Claire Bouquet). She enjoys cardigans and being inscrutable. Before her capture, she torture-murdered rapists and abusers in ritualistic ways. One Mantis-head seems to be recreating her crimes, but this time the victims are just regular dudes. Ooh. The Mantis offers Ferraci a deal to help with the case. Of course, it comes with a couple of catches. He must allow her to operate from a chateau only slightly smaller than Versailles, and Detective Carrot must be on the case.
The Adventures Of Captain Carrot
Damien Carrot (Fred Testot), a hardcore, deep-cover narc, enjoys henleys, being a badass cop, and shower sex with his fiancee, Lucie (Manon Azem). Lucie, a potter, like Demi Moore in “Ghost”, has impossibly gorgeous shea butter skin, loves wearing mom jeans, and has no idea Damien’s mom is a serial killer. In one of the most complicated witness protection schemes ever, Jeanne “La Mante” Deber’s confession for the original crimes secured identity protection for her son, Damien. The authorities added her old identity to a plane crash’s passenger manifest. They then convicted and jailed her under her new identity.
If that sounds ridiculous, it is. But it isn’t a fun idiocy like The Following. That show was goofy camp with Kevin Bacon as a straight man stranded in a Maryland-wide serial killer-itis outbreak. TV’s Hannibal also comes to mind, with its pretentious knob cranked past eleven to OPERAAAA! It shouldn’t have worked but everything from the production and costume design to Mads Mikkelsen’s wry irony and Laurence Fishburne going full Pacino made me feel like everyone was in on the joke.
“La Mante” contains no camp. Any silliness is unintentional, including the linguistic weirdness of seeing the main protagonist called “Captain Carrot” in the subtitles. The cast mopes around like they’re auditioning for a Christopher Nolan movie. I found myself unsuccessfully trying to imagine them playing tetherball or sitting on a whoopee cushion. It’s so committed to the arch seriousness of Captain Carrot and The Mantis’s tortured family history that it even subverts its only surprising and hilarious reveal with a later double reveal that the previous reveal was a metaphor. Sure, that sounds cool. But it’s really not.
Like The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, titled Men Who Hate Women in its native Sweden, La Mante shares an admirable desire to avenge and give voice to marginalized women. Unfortunately, The Mantis is a troublesome avenging angel who never does any fun hacking, Captain Carrot’s position on Mantis Force comes at the expense of a talented female detective, and when the killer is finally revealed it’s a LGBTQ-phobic twist that wouldn’t be out of place in a late-’70s DePalma schlock-fest. Worse than that, it’s rarely fun or shocking. There’s a reason I ended up paying so much attention to the clothes and moved quickly to the next recommended series on my “Dark Foreign Crime Shows With Strong Female Leads” Netflix channel.