American Murder: The Family Next Door ★★★½

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This may have impacted me like it did because I was completely unaware of the details of this story, but the story itself is horrifying. This kind of documentary is far scarier than any Horror film I’ve ever seen. One issue I see others having (understandably so) is the fact that the documentary doesn’t necessarily add anything new to the narrative. It never dives deep into the “why” of it all. It never explores the mindset of the individual that committed these disgusting crimes. It attempts at points, but the focus is to create an “entertaining” (I use that word in a respectful way) film using the footage that they were able to retrieve. But again, I knew nothing specific about this murder. I knew of it, but I normally don’t love looking into these kinds of tragedies because I find anything involving kids too heartbreaking. I worked with Hope’s Place for two years, and I have just seen enough of this in person. Since I review movies, I buckled down and attempted to soak in this story.

First off, how did they manage to retrieve all of this footage? From body cams to security footage, the sheer number of angles of every shot is an impressive achievement. While it is clearly appealing to the true-crime-loving crowd with its distinct editing style and music cues, there is no denying the impact of the story itself. The clever and marketable editing cannot cover up the pure gut-punch of it all. When we get to the completely shocking moments involving this monster, the feeling you get is undeniable and gut-wrenching. We are consistently asking ourselves, “who would do something like this and why?” The film doesn’t give all of the answers at first, as it shows restraint in the beginning (which I liked quite a bit), but the third act begins to let loose and give us everything. If you were aware of most of this, you probably didn’t learn much, and that’s tough when criticizing a film that is supposed to provide new information. I found it to be put-together in an interesting way; it conveyed its tragic story in a fascinating fashion, and it fits perfectly in the always-expanding Netflix compartment of true-crime documentaries.

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