Review by Camden Ferrell
American Murder: The Family Next Door is the newest true crime documentary from Netflix. Known for their entertaining and popular true crime docs, Netflix’s newest feat may prove to be one of their best endeavors. Jenny Popplewell’s newest film is a relentlessly chilling look into a very famous and horrific case.
This documentary tells the real-life story of the Watts family murders that occurred in Colorado in 2018. After a woman and her children go missing, very surprising and disturbing discoveries are made soon thereafter. This is a very famous case with which many people are familiar. Even if it’s a story that has been heard before, this is an interesting and shocking story that provide a strong basis for the documentary.
What’s notable about this documentary is its use of actual footage from these events. There are no interviews, recreations, or anything non-authentic. It uses a combination of police footage, security camera footage, and social media posts to create a detailed account of the events that transpired. It’s an interesting way to tell the story, but there is a great amount of material with which to work.
Due to the nature of the documentary, there are no performances at all or interviews that were prepared, and that gives the movie a very natural and unpredictable feeling. We get to see everyone’s genuine actions and reactions as they occur spontaneously, and it’s haunting more than anything.
True crime documentaries have a tendency to sensationalize their subjects. This movie doesn’t do that too much, but it definitely uses common techniques to artificially create heightened tension and a certain shock factor that is commonplace in the genre. However, this does also heighten the entertainment factor, which is an important characteristic for a film of this type.
Popplewell organizes this documentary very well. It’s straightforward, but it employs techniques that tell the story but jumping between the before and after moments of the disappearance. This prevents the film from having a completely linear progression that might have gotten old very quick. Considering the amount of footage there is, she also does a great job of keeping the film concise without any unnecessary moments.
For those familiar with the case, this film might not inform or shock as much, but it’s still an intimate and chilling look into the specifics of the case and all of the aspects that were involved. It may seem to use the case and the victims to create an entertaining story rather than honoring them at times, and it may be problematic for some viewers, but it really is an interesting and horrifically tragic case that’s worth checking out.
American Murder: The Family Next Door is another interesting and captivating true crime documentary from Netflix. This film won’t win any new converts for the genre, but for fans of true crime, this is a must watch documentary. It’s surprising, fast-paced, and it’s a horrific look into the tragedy that struck one Colorado family.
American Murder: The Family Next Door is available on Netflix September 30.
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