The success of the series, released in August on the Arabic-language streaming service Shahid, is due in large part to its script, which was created during a writing workshop led by Mohamed Salah Al-Azab and brought together Emad Matar and Inji Abou El-Seoud.
The series is directed by Hadi El-Bagoury.
The unusual story follows the real-life criminal journey of the Egyptian serial killer Gaddafi Farag, showing the relationships between characters and police during the investigation.
At first, Farag comes across as a gentle, religious young man who even has a prayer as his ringtone. He is a very helpful person who is loved by everyone around him.
We discover, however, that the man behind the facade does not hesitate to eliminate anyone who stands in front of him. He killed his best friend just to be able to start a partnership with someone else. He also impersonates his now-dead friend, taking his place in the factory where he was supposed to work.
It is also revealed that Farag has had relationships with several women, each time pretending to be someone else.
Among the women he encounters is a young lady whom we see chained and imprisoned by Farag in the first episode.
We gradually discover that she is the sister of one of Farag’s wives, whom he is in love with and seeks to control at all costs. Each time Farag commits a murder, he confesses it to her and justifies his actions while they share a meal together.
Meals and eating are important themes in the series, with flashbacks helping the audience to understand the ripper’s psychology and the causes of his outrageous violence.
In one of these scenes, his mother slits his father's throat during a meal. In another, he is beaten by his mother after stealing sandwiches she intended to sell on the street.
Torn between hunger and fear, Farag is the victim of a violent and narcissistic mother who continues to manipulate him.
The culinary scenes are reminiscent of Dr. Hannibal Lecter, a character from The Silence of the Lambs (1991), a psychiatrist and a serial killer portrayed by Anthony Hopkins. However, there is no question of competing with the cannibalistic Lecter, who continues to fascinate us, thirty years after the film’s release.
An offense to religion?
Another major theme is the way in which Farag uses religion to cover up his bloodthirsty character and manipulate the police.
Farag’s religious mask is controversial, provoking many comments by social media users.
“Instead of warning people about the presence of criminals in their surroundings, we warn them against religion!” one user wrote in a Facebook post that was shared thousands of times.
However, others highlighted that religious practice has a dual aspect: physical and spiritual, and that practicing one does not necessarily imply the other. In other words, they argue, that even if the ripper is a devoted practitioner of Islam, it still does not make him a saint.
In many instances, Ahmad Fahmy, who portrays Farag, tried to add his personal touch to the character’s interpretation.
At times, however, he did not manage to fully capture Farag’s criminal personality. He often appears cold rather than calm, which underlines that the approaches adopted by the actor are essentially based on visual, auditory and emotional elements.
Still, the actor’s treatment of the subject comes from an in-depth psychological study of the real-life Farag, which gives depth to the character of the murderer.
Hanane Youssef, who plays the role of the narcissistic mother, captures the character with a brilliance worthy of a great actress. She embodies the manipulative woman who consistently overestimates her abilities and belittles those around her, including her son. Undeniably, the mother’s demeanor had a strong impact on the home and on the future of the children.
Yet, all the family members are shown contributing to the formation of a young man who eventually becomes a serial killer.
For example, the relationship that Zeina, his wife's sister – played remarkably by Rakine Saad – has with Farag's family is equally dysfunctional. Farag’s father makes outrageous demands of Zeina, shattering any communication between the two.
Moreover, the father-son relationship is underlined through the policeman played by Bassem Samra who lost his wife in an accident and who raises his teenage son alone. The pressure of police work on the father taints their relationship, making the son feels alone and unable to share his fears and wishes with his father.
The series offers numerous powerful social messages. The most evident ones are: the best-hidden monsters are the most dangerous, and all problems start at home.
This article was originally published in Al-Ahram Hebdo (French) on 22 September 2023.
Translation to English: Ati Metwaly
Additional edit: Ahram Online