Movie #309 2020: American Murder: The Family Next Door (2020)

Since Making a Murderer hit Netflix in 2016, true crime documentaries have been selling like hot potatoes. And I’m not mad about it.

American Murder: The Family Next Door is a 2020 Netflix Documentary by Jenny Popplewell; the director behind the original Jamie documentary that is now a major Broadway and West End show, and is soon to become a feature film in its own right. This documentary is certainly much darker than Jamie, however, with its themes of murder, violence, and infanticide. Compiled entirely of raw, first-hand footage and completely absent of cutaway interview sequences, it is unlike any true crime documentary you’ll have seen before. We are taken through the disappearance of a young mother named Shannann and her two daughters, and how the crime was eventually solved by local police detectives.

To briefly summarise: this is a really modern, fresh take on the documentary format. Using only real found footage helps explain the truth of what happened here so vividly that it feels like you’re watching events unfold in real time. In fact, it feels as if you’re part of the events themselves, and it forces your mind to go to work on what actually happened in this horrific real life story.

In a CCTV obsessed world where people document everything, it’s so interesting that they were able to capture and piece together almost the entire case without any reconstruction or filler. There’s some intelligent use of police body camera footage, film from interrogation rooms, and the victim’s own social media videos. If this spawns a new style of documentary I would not be mad. It’s innovative and brilliant, making this a little more than your average documentary on such a subject.

What’s so great is Netflix have finally realised that a documentary doesn’t need to be a six episode series. This is condensed into a feature film length and skips out any pointless speculation or irrelevance à la the Madeleine McCann documentary, and creates a path for a future trend. Hopefully they stick with it!

Though this isn’t the most shocking murder documentary (watch West of Memphis, damn it!), it certainly is chilling and well put together. Well done, Jenny Popplewell! Give us more!

American Murder: The Family Next Door is available to stream on Netflix in the UK.

TQR Category Ratings:

Performance: n/a
Costume & Set Design: n/a
Overall Enjoyability Rating: 

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