The Best Netflix Originals You Probably Haven’t Seen

La Mante (series, France)

Jeanne is serving a life sentence behind bars for crimes she most definitely committed, but now someone else is murdering people in ways far too reminiscent of her own serial killing history. A copycat is taking lives, and the police turn to her for help in capturing the culprit. She agrees, but with one stipulation – her son, now a detective, must work with her.

There really aren’t enough movies/series featuring female serial killers. Monster, Serial Mom, and Friday the 13th (sorry, spoiler) are a few examples, but they’re rarely if ever given the same wit, intelligence, and screen presence as Thomas Harris’ books/films gave to Hannibal Lecter. Until now that is! Carole Bouquet brings an icy brilliance to Jeanne, with the added benefit of teasing softer moments we expect to see and feel in a mother towards her son. It’s a terrific performance that holds our attention to her every breath.

At six episodes, La Mante – aka The Mantis – careens through its story offering ups some smart, surprising turns and shocking sequences, and it plays every bit like a terrific serial killer thriller stretched out just far enough to offer more depth and character work without ever feeling over-extended. The killings are grim business too, and the camera doesn’t shy away from the bloody demises and messy remains. Fans of The Silence of the Lambs and Red Dragon are the obvious targets here, but anyone who enjoys thrillers that actually thrill should give this one a go.

Message From the King

Jacob King arrives in Los Angeles from South Africa, but he’s not on vacation. He’s looking for his missing sister, Bianca, and he finds her almost immediately – in the morgue. The lost girl was murdered, and now Jacob is trolling the seedier parts and people of L.A. in search of those responsible.

The big draw here is the Black Panther himself, Chadwick Boseman, in the lead role, and while he’s long since revealed his acting chops elsewhere, it’s worth seeing them paired with the darkly-motivated action on display here. He nails the loss and anger equally well, and when it comes time to kick ass, he’s every bit as compelling and capable. The supporting cast is equally strong with the likes of Teresa Palmer, Luke Evans, Alfred Molina, and Chris Mulkey popping up along the way.

It’s far from an original tale, as the general gist of it all is pretty transparent and familiar, but Boseman’s charisma and the film’s growing energy carry viewers forward. Director Fabrice du Welz sticks to some dark themes here, but it’s positively sunny compared to his most infamous films – Calvaire, Alléluia – which enjoyed (?) rubbing viewers’ faces in their very human horrors. The truly vile stuff is only teased here as the film instead remains somewhat more traditional. There’s an underlying thread of King being dismissed by Americans as little more than a South African thug, and it builds to a highly satisfying payoff on that front.

Tramps

Two strangers cross paths when they’re tasked with different parts of an illicit package swap. The convoluted exchange goes sideways when they leave their briefcase with the wrong woman, and as they try to fix their mistake over the next 24 hours, they find a reward even greater than the cash awaiting a job well done. No spoilers, but it rhymes with friendship and maybe even love.

The plot may be thin, as evidenced by the >90 minute running time, but there’s more than enough happening here to engage, interest, and entertain as the initial mix-up opens doors to both side adventures and character time. Both Danny (Callum Turner) and Ellie (Grace Van Patten) are at a crossroads in their own lives and still stuck between their careless youths and crushing adulthood, but they find something in each other that pushes them forward. Is it a reflection or an inspiration? Maybe it’s both, and it just may be enough to jumpstart the rest of their lives.

Both Turner and Van Patten deliver amiable and charismatic performances as instantly likable characters seemingly out of their depths, and they do good work feeling each other out without the obvious and expected physical fumblings. One scene sees them in a stranger’s suburban home, and the comfort and calm of the environment is visible on their faces as something well beyond their norm. Most of the film stays focused on the pair, but Mike Birbiglia has an atypical supporting turn as a bad influence of sorts.

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