Netflix “American Murder: The Family Next Door” takes unique approach to documentary filmmaking

American Murder traces behind-the-scene events that led to Chris Watts’ confession of killing his pregnant wife and two daughters.


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Netflix’s newest true crime documentary is a chilling take on the Watts family murder.

Veonna King, Staff Writer

The new Netflix documentary “American Murder: The Family Next Door,” takes a mysterious approach, with providing haunting and searching about the story. In November 2018,  Colorado resident Christopher Watts pleaded guilty to the murder of his pregnant wife, Shanann Watts, and their two daughters, 4-year-old Bella and 3-year-old Celest. The bodies were found by investigators after Watts then disposed of the bodies in an industrial oil field near their suburban home. 

The documentary uses datelines, dramatic narration and emotional interviews to construct a narrative entirely out of archival footage. Shanann’s continuous Facebook updates, her video confessionals and text messages with her husband form the central material of the film. Those elements eventually combine with police body camera footage and polygraph surveillance video of Christopher’s confession. The 82-minute documentary aired on Wednesday, Sept. 30, and has consistently drawn eyes ever since. The movie has ranked on Netflix’s “Top 10 Movies in the U.S. Today” list in the past weeks. Netflix murder documentaries have seen success so it’s no surprise this one has done the same

This is a film that feels very eerie but intimate while being extensive enough to reflect the distance between the online performance of a happy marriage and the devastating truth of a relationship’s unraveling. This is because this story feels dangerously close to home and unlike other crime narratives, this does not provide the security of “But, that’s never going to happen to me.” Aptly titled, “The Family Next Door,” Jenny Popplewell, director, presents the Watts story as more than a crime story. It is a film about marriage and the deception of social media, as well as an analysis of domestic violence. This is a must-watch!