Courtney Howard // Film Critic

SK1 (L’AFFAIRE SK1)  |  120 min | Unrated
Directed by: Frédéric Tellier
Starring: Raphaël Personnaz, Nathalie Baye, Olivier Gourmet, Adama Niane

Films about serial killers are particularly hard to do these days given there are so many that proliferate the marketplace. Since films like SEVEN, MANHUNTER, THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, and most recently THE VOICES and CHILD 44 exist in cinema – let alone all the CRIMINAL MINDS: SVUCSI clones that populate the boob tube – it’s difficult to find a fresh and unique way to tell a suspenseful story. Ripped from the Parisian headlines comes co-writer/ director Frédéric Tellier’s SK1, a re-telling of the “Beast Of The Bastille’s” eight-year reign of terror. What should make for a gripping thriller comes across as POLISSE meets an episode of LAW & ORDER: SVU, never being as good as either.

It’s 1991 when we first meet over-eager detective Franck Mange (Raphaël Personnaz, whom I call “France’s Cillian Murphy”). Having just transferred to Paris’ homicide crime squad 36, a.k.a. his dream job, the reality of a grizzly unsolved crime spree smacks him in the face when he’s given his first case: find the elusive killer who’s been brutally raping and murdering pretty young girls. Before he knows it, Franck, now lovingly nicknamed “Charlie” in his department, is caught-up in a years-long, obsession-driven hunt for a man they dub SK1, or “Serial Killer 1.” What follows is a nightmare of dead ends, false clues, and lots of bureaucratic red tape.

Raphaël Personnaz in SK1.

Raphaël Personnaz in SK1.

When it comes down to it, SK1 is just your average, rudimentary police procedural made slightly better thanks to Personnaz’s noteworthy presence. Tellier really doesn’t add much new to the formula. He derives much of the film’s suspense, which takes at least forty minutes to build, from procedural aspects. That’s perfectly fine, only he doesn’t add anything bold or fresh to the mix – and the feeling is, sadly, rote. There’s some depth and dimension added in the psychological portrait of this monster, but at the same time, it feels unnecessary to humanize a demon.

Much to the narrative’s detriment, Tellier also cuts away from the mounting momentum to show the excessive trials of suspect Guy Georges (Adama Niane). SK1’s “B” story with Guy’s lawyers – which include Maître Frédérique Pons (Nathalie Baye) and his advocate without a name (William Nadylam) – fails to fully connect. All of the courtroom scenes stall and reveal far too much of the mystery surrounding the suspect’s identity. We’re told about Franck’s skills in getting a confession, yet when it comes time for this to be shown, it’s executed poorly – with the answers easily forthcoming and without any character-building. Plus, Tellier goes overboard on showing the dead girls’ bodies. It gets more than a little excessive, bordering on gratuitous and grotesque, leading me to wonder if it suffers from awomen in refrigerators complex.

The filmmakers’ attempt at making an engrossing picture akin to the greats isn’t a total loss. There’s still a complex, layered film to be made out of SK1’s real-life story – just not by Tellier, or any of this film’s cohorts.

SK1 (L’AFFAIRE SK1) plays ColCoa on April 24. It will be released by Kino Lorber.


About author

Courtney Howard

Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, CCA, OFCS and AWFJ member, as well as a Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic. Her work has been published on Variety, She Knows and Awards Circuit.