The Serpent is a 2021 Netflix series about French serial killer Charles Sobhraj who killed at least twelve young people traveling the hippie trails across Asia.
0 out of 10 stars. This was really poorly done. The story is told with no backstory, no details, no timeline, and told out of sequence. The acting by the two main roles, Tahar Rahim and Jenna Coleman, is especially bad. The real couple were quite charismatic. These two are not charismatic at all and Rahim is quite ugly in this role. This is a perfect example of how important the screenplay and casting are to a film.
Charles Sobhraj was a French serial killer of Vietnamese and Indian descent. He hated Americans, Europeans, and hippies, basically anyone who backpacked or did drugs of any kind, especially marijuana. His scam was that he would pretend to be a gem dealer and convince these young people to give him money to “buy gems” then resell them in other countries for double the price. Of course, they never made it that far, because they’d be killed.
First, here’s the background that the series never gives you. From 1973 to 1975 Charles Sobhraj and his wife Chantal Compagnon robbed hippies in Kabul. In 1975 they split and she returned to France. He went to India and met French Canadian Marie Andree Leclerc who became his girlfriend and accomplice. They met Indian Ajay Chowdhury who became their third accomplice. And between the three of them, they escalated to murder.
Their first victim was a girl from Seattle who was found in a tidal pool of Bangkok wearing a bikini. He was dubbed the Bikini Killer. Their second victim was a Turkish Jew whose burnt body was found near a resort.
The series starts with their third and fourth victims, a Dutch couple with a lot of money, Henk Bintanja and his girlfriend Cornelia Hemker. They met Sobhraj in Hong Kong and he convinced them to come to Bangkok. Once there, they were convinced by Chowdhury to forget the hotel and stay with them. They were never seen alive again and the Dutch embassy was alerted to their disappearance. (I’m not sure if that was the embassy in Hong Kong or Thailand). Most of the employees of the embassy ignored the disappearance because hippies are known to disappear for a year or two while they’re “finding themselves” and they’ve wasted valuable man hours on disappearances that showed up a year later. But Dutch diplomat Herman Knippenberg takes an interest and begins investigating their disappearance. They had a lot of money and disappeared between the airport and the hotel, not the usual MO of hippies going off to find themselves.
On December 18, 1975, the Dutch couple’s bodies are found and it officially becomes murder.
Meanwhile, Sobhraj keeps gathering hippies around him, stealing their passports, robbing them of travelers’ checks, and quite often killing them with poison or strangling them. In one graphic scene, an American nun comes to Sobhraj’s villa and gets high on drugs. She has a bag full of travelers checks for the monastery and they relieve her of it then poison her.
In July 1976, Sobhraj, Leclerc, and Chowdhury disappeared to India where they continued killing until they were finally caught. Sobhraj spent 21 years in prison living a lavish lifestyle because he’d smuggled gemstones in his body and was using them to bribe the guards. That entire time he publicized the murders in books through Random House and got richer. He was released in February 1997 and returned to France where he continued to get rich from his retelling of the murders. Then he got cocky and returned to Nepal where he was photographed and arrested in 2003 for two different murders, thanks to the evidence against him gathered by Herman Knippenberg.
Of course none of this is explained. Instead the series shows drug parties, disjointed scenes that don’t make sense, and little innuendos among the three killers. This makes for a very slow, very boring, very confusing viewing experience. Everything that made the story interesting was removed from the story completely.
0 out of 10 stars. Don’t know who wrote it, but they did a crappy job. Casting was also awful.