Netflix has added to the list of true crime content recently with ‘American Murder: The Family Next Door’. The shocking one off documentary which took over Twitter focuses on the tragic murder of Colorado woman Shannan Watts and her two young daughters Celeste Watts and Bella Watts, also remembering her unborn child Nico Lee Watts. Viewers all over the world were gripped for an hour and a half with the horrifying story of the Watts and their family life prior to the murders.

Shannan was a young stay-at-home mum and a perpetual social media user, regularly updating her Facebook friends with images, videos and updates of her seemingly idyllic family life. British filmmaker Jenny Popplewell harnessed this and used it to form the basis of the crime documentary, a chronological narrative that creates an intimate view of Shannan’s kindred life.

Her story is told through the aforementioned videos that were posted online to give off the image of the perfect all American family. Texts were also gathered off of Shannan’s phone that detailed the problems that were not apparent in her online profile. Using a home movie style in collaboration with police footage and news interviews has been done before in similar documentaries like ‘Dream Killer’ where directors use real life footage to create the feeling that the viewer is there in the moment themselves. Where American Murder differs however is, in our generation of online over-sharing and creating the perfect profile, Shannan’s hours of live streamed videos posted to her social media in events leading up to her death allow Netflix to add a more personalised dimension.

With previous non-fiction releases like ‘Making a Murderer’ and ‘The Confession Tapes’ lasting over 2 series, the Watts’ story is only shown for one episode that lasts just over an hour. This has led many viewers to question whether the documentary answered enough questions about the travesty. With just a quick google search, it is obvious to see that there is a lot more evidence and context to this truly shocking tale that the documentary did not go into.

One aspect that is merely brushed over is the role that Nichol Kessinger had to play in the story. Due to avoidance of spoilers, that is as much as can be said, however fans and critics alike have taken to social media, specifically YouTube, to divulge these details so if you are feeling like this documentary isn’t enough for you, definitely watch these videos for a deeper understanding.

Popplewell includes a stark reminder of the importance of restarting conversations on murder in marriage and abusive partners at the end of the documentary by stating that three women are killed by their current or ex partner every day in America. This alarming statistic is just one example of how this mini docudrama generated conversation and brought attention to the ever important issue of domestic violence.

4 stars

Image Credit: The MovieDB

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