“American Murder: The Family Next Door” takes your breath away


photo by Netflix

This is the movie poster for “American Murder: The Family Next Door,” released on Netflix on Sept. 30.

In Aug. 2018, the disappearance and subsequent murders of Shan’ann, Bella, Celeste, and unborn child Nico Watts made national headlines. Despite the caring and loving husband portrayed on the news, Christopher Watts, was found to be their killer. A new Netflix documentary released on Sept. 30, “American Murder: The Family Next Door” gives a chilling inside look into the Watts family murders. 

The documentary begins on the day of the murders with Nickole Atkinson, Shan’ann’s best friend, calling the police to check on her due to a concerning lack of communication. Quickly, it spiraled into a disappearance case, as their whereabouts were unknown. 

The storyline is set up chronologically, making it easy to follow. It goes through the first four days after the case, then backtracks to the weeks before, mixing it in with the police testimony until Christopher’s confession. 

While many knew the details of the case, the documentary gives more context and an in-depth look into the murders. There was no narrator, which enhanced the story; it made it original. The film solely relied on exclusive footage from the police bodycams and testimony, Facebook videos posted by Shan’ann before her death, and animations of the text message exchanges that occurred between the Shan’ann and others, including her husband and friends. Even the video of Shan’ann entering her house, where she was last seen alive, was included, making it hard to look away from the screen.

The first half of the documentary moved slowly, but the intricate details and evidence presented in the case made up for it. At first, Watts is shown as a loving husband and father, with footage of him begging for the return of his family on the news, enforcing his public image. After the police received his confession for murdering his family two-thirds of the way in, the documentary picks up pace really quickly, almost too quickly, showing where the bodies were discovered and what happened between the couple days before the murders occurred. 

Within the last 30 minutes of the documentary, a lot of information was presented, which took a while to process. It touched on the court proceedings and motive, but it could have done more in that aspect. The motive did not match the crime: it would not normally be something to kill your pregnant wife and kids over. I wanted to know more about what happened after the confession, but not much information was included, which was disappointing.

As a fan of true crime documentaries myself, I was intrigued when I saw the trailer, and it rose up to my expectations. With the captivating footage, the film takes the audience deep into a horrific event without overdoing it. It brought the overlooked details from press coverage into context, making it a jarring but interesting watch.