Franck (Raphae l Personnaz) is an eager rookie homicide squad inspector. When a woman is found with her throat cut, he shrewdly unearths parallels between previously unrelated cases. Before he knows it, Franck is caught up in an eight-year obsessive hunt for Serial Killer 1, a man whose very existence is questioned by others. Loosely based on the investigation into real-life murderer Guy Georges, aka the Beast Of The Bastille (whose lurking disorder is deftly captured by Adama Niane), the story milks suspense from the procedural aspects of the manhunt, the false leads, dead ends, and the stifling bureaucracy of a police force hindered by dwindling budgets and a knee-jerk insistence on outdated, traditional methods.
"Try to keep a little distance. Or this case will destroy you."
Monsters will always be fascinating characters. Dracula versus Professor Van Helsing, Michael Myers versus Doctor Loomis, every monster has an antagonist, that human counterpoint to root for. But sometimes the monster is as human as you or I. Sometimes the antagonist is a simple police investigator obsessed with cracking the case he's been handed. Such is the case involving the real-life rapist and murderer Guy George and the young inspector Franck Magne who would for nearly ten years sift through hundreds of case files, go through all of the evidence and break through the outdated stone walls of traditional police inspection in order to bring a killer to justice. During the trial of Guy George, a lawyer will make the bold defense of humanizing her client, to show the world he isn't a monster, but a flesh and blood man. These parallel stories run alongside each other throughout Frédéric Tellier's 'Serial Killer 1' creating an evocative and engrossing thriller.
Franck Magne (Raphaël Personnaz) has a lot to prove. It's October 1991, he's just been assigned to the legendary crime squad 36, a group of inspectors dedicated to solving the worst crimes in Paris. As the youngest investigator on the 36 team, he's eager to show what he can do and make a good impression. But when one of his partners hands him their most cherished unsolved case file, the brutal rape, torture, and murder of a beautiful young woman, Franck can't let it go. Before long, finding this woman's killer becomes an obsession and as Franck digs deeper, he starts to uncover other unsolved crimes that have striking similarities. When new murders occur under similar circumstances, Franck must push through the thick muck of ego and bureaucracy to force the Paris police department to adopt state of the art detection methods. As they're now able to uncover and identify DNA, a single suspect emerges as the perpetrator of seven grizzly murders. Without any name, this mystery man is designated "Serial Killer 1" in the police DNA database.
On March 19th, 2001, it is the first day of the trial of Guy George (Adama Niane), the man known to all of France as The Beast of Bastille. Maitre Frédérique Pons (Nathalie Baye) has agreed to defend Guy George alongside his assigned advocate (William Nadylam). Pons must set aside what she feels and believes about the case and focus on the flimsy evidence against her client. With a new DNA test looming, Pons must take apart the evidence, including a confession in order to prove that her client is potentially innocent. She must tear off this mask the police and the press have created that Guy is a monster. He's not a monster. He's a man. If she succeeds, Guy George will go free, but that doesn't sit well with her instincts as a woman that the man she's defending is very likely a brutal killer with a documented past of armed assault and rape.
Frédéric Tellier's 'Serial Killer 1' is a thrilling and effective docudrama thriller. It pulls apart the pieces of a historical event, provides a look into a past world that is well known but just as captivating. In a world where DNA is a common piece of evidence in murder trials, it's still amazing to think that hardly 20 years ago it was something that would be disputed or something people believed was a fallible inaccurate piece of evidence that couldn't be trusted. At the same time, the film's unique approach of covering two different sides of the story from two different time periods proves to be incredibly effective at telling this story. As any Google search would reveal, the Beast of Bastille has a face and his name is Guy George. Because there is little mystery left of who the killer is, the film decides to show how he was caught and brought to justice.
Perhaps the best way to describe my reaction to 'Serial Killer 1' is with a couple of qualifier examples. If you're going to draw any sort of comparisons, this film is a shorter version of 'Zodiac' meets 'The People V. O.J. Simpson.' Those aren't exactly the best examples, but it's the only way that I can illustrate the fractured timeline approach to the story. On one side we're hooked into Franck's obsession with the case and how at every turn internal red tape and ego is keeping people from realizing the obvious that the cases are connected. At the same time, we watch an experienced female lawyer juggle her own internal feelings about defending an indefensible client of horrible crimes against other women. She clearly doesn't believe her client's innocence, but she believes in the rule of law and if there is a chance that he is actually innocent, that evidence must be heard in a court of law.
Through it all, we're treated to a series of incredible performances. Raphaël Personnaz's Franck is a quiet brooding and driven character. It's his actions that bring the character to light, not his words. He's like watching a windup clock. You know it's working, every now and again it chimes the hour of the day, but we don't see its internal workings. We're given brief insights into what this case is doing to himself as well as the strain it's causing his family, but we're kept at a distance. At the same time, we're watching Nathalie Baye's Frédérique Pons face her client. She knows in her gut the man is guilty. But she must defend him. She has to do it not only because of the flimsy evidence but also because she knows Guy George is a human being. He's not a monster, he isn't a freak, he's the product of a series of terrible situations that culminated in his horrific actions. Caught in between these two is an impressive turn from Adama Niane as Guy George. Niane does an incredible job of humanizing the man. You don't ever quite relate to him, his actions make that a bit difficult, but you do end up feeling an ounce of sympathy for him.
If there is one thing that I would have liked from 'Serial Killer 1' is more of it. At two hours, the film flies by in a flash and actually feels a bit too short by about ten or twenty minutes. I wanted that extra time. I didn't need to see more grizzly details of the crimes, the film is perfectly frank enough, nor did I need to see any reenactments of those crimes. I wanted to spend more time with these characters. While the dual stories from two different time periods work beautifully, it, unfortunately, does shortchange inspector Franck Magne and Maitre Frédérique Pons. Not in the way that we don't get to know who they are, I just would have liked to have spent an extra few minutes with their lives away from the case. Going back to 'Zodiac' as an example, I loved how that movie showed the detrimental effects the case had on those involved and how their obsessions or their drive tore apart relationships. If 'Serial Killer 1' had a few more moments like that, I feel that this would have been a perfect procedural thriller. As it stands, it's an engrossing thriller from start to finish that rests just on the edge of cinematic glory. As I watched the film I realized how I started sitting on my couch, suddenly I was sitting on my coffee table, and then I was standing right in front of my television set by the time the film came to a close. I pulled me in from minute one and didn't let go.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Serial Killer 1' arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of Kino Lorber. Pressed onto a Region A locked BD50 disc, the disc is housed in a standard Blu-ray case. The disc opens directly to a static image main menu with traditional navigation options.
'Serial Killer 1' arrives on Blu-ray with a very purposefully gritty and grainy 2.35:1 1080p transfer. As a period thriller, it's intended to have a harshness to it that some may find a bit too gritty. I searched around for information as to whether this was shot digitally with some grain filters added or on some sensitive film stock to give the image that grainy texture. If I had to guess given its appearance is that it was shot on Super 16mm - at least for the scenes involving the police investigation. It has a very film-like appearance to it but doesn't provide the same level of detail and image depth that a larger format would. Details that are apparent are very good, facial features, clothing, textures and the film's production design are given fair treatment without any notable softness issues. Colors are also purposefully drab favoring cooler tones without a teal/orange push. Primaries are a bit subdued but the color red is given extra special attention - especially the red file the original murder case arrives in. Black levels are strong and provide the image with plenty of depth. There are a few night sequences where things can look a bit hazy, but there aren't any crush issues to report. In contrast, the trial scenes offer much more clarity, vivid colors, and image depth. For the stylings of the film, this is a very effective and appropriate appearance for this transfer.
'Serial Killer 1' comes packed with an effective and brooding French DTS-HD MA 5.1 audio mix with English subtitles. Dialogue is front and center and is the primary focus of the film as much of the information relayed about the case is verbal. Sound effects, backgrounds, atmospherics, and scoring are all equally spaced allowing for the mix to provide a suitable sense of space and dimension. Imaging is also on the subtle side of things as this is a very calm and purposeful film through much of the story. The sense of channel movement and surround activity is used more a means to setup atmosphere and tone rather than to provide a sense of immersion. That said, when the big manhunt sequences start up or during some of the more dramatic trial sequences, the surround activity kicks up a couple notches. All around this is a fantastic mix that works well for this type of film.
Theatrical Trailer: (HD 2:12)
'Serial Killer 1' wound up being an unexpectedly engrossing thriller. By showing how the mystery of one of the most brutal serial killings was solved, the film finds an interesting and unique approach towards the genre. Fans of true crime stories should enjoy the procedural approach of the film. I was hooked from the get go and am eager to show it to anyone willing to give it a shot. Kino Lorber brings the film to Blu-ray in fine order with a terrific A/V transfer. Sadly there aren't any bonus features to speak of and this is one of those films where I want to learn everything about the real story as well as the making of the film. Even without any bonus features, I'm calling this Blu-ray release of 'Serial Killer 1' recommended. The movie is absolutely worth the watch.