Need something to watch this weekend? Take a look at our recommendations for the 5 best true crime documentaries currently streaming on Netflix.
Undeniably, the obsession with true crime has been on the rise in recent years with more and more people discovering their fascination with the macabre. To meet this demand, an extensive amount of true crime content is being created and it’s hard to separate the good, the bad, and the ugly. Well, look no further, because here at Loud & Clear we’ve compiled together a list of the 5 best true crime documentaries currently streaming on Netflix. The range of crimes discussed in these documentaries is broad and often harrowing. It is therefore essential that you make yourself aware of the trigger warnings for each documentary before viewing.
Director: Jean-Xavier de Lestrade
If you’re excited about HBO Max’s newly announced drama The Staircase, which stars Colin Firth and Toni Collette, then it’s time to educate yourself on the source material. Director Jean-Xavier de Lestrade’s documentary, also titled The Staircase, follows the case of Michael Peterson. Mr Peterson was accused of killing his wife Kathleen on December 9th 2001 after her body was found, by Peterson himself, at the bottom of the stairs in their shared home.
Expanding over a period of 15-plus years, The Staircase is a documentary of epic proportions, with lots to consider and not many answers given. It’s a thoroughly engaging watch, and you are likely to repeatedly go back and forth on the reliability of Michael Peterson’s professed innocence. Although the scrutiny of one’s personal life and character is expected in a courtroom, it is a rare occurrence that a suspected criminal would allow a film crew to document their every move. The result of this, whether reliable or not, is an extremely intimate viewing experience.
When watching The Staircase, it’s important to consider the fact this documentary is conducted with bias in favour of Michael Peterson. Although it may have not begun this way, over the course of the 15-year period, it’s undeniably how The Staircase evolves to be. This can be seen through the hug shared between a film crew member, perhaps Lestrade himself, and Peterson in his holding cell. Orchestral music is also used throughout, which undoubtedly heightens the emotional response from the viewer and elicits pity for Peterson.
Nonetheless, despite these inclusions, The Staircase is still a perplexing case that leaves room for you to come to your own conclusions. The many twists and turns that appear throughout the 13-part series will undoubtedly keep you on the edge of your seat and you will be left wanting more. Enter HBO Max’s The Staircase.
TURNING POINT: 9/11 AND THE WAR ON TERROR
Director: Brian Knappenberger
As Thomas Drake, America’s Former Senior Executive of National Security simply puts it, ‘there’s before 9/11 and there’s after 9/11.’ Undoubtedly, the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001 are one of the most definitive events of modern times. It invariably changed the way in which we lived our lives, how we conducted security procedures and our response to threats of violence.
Netflix’s Turning Point: 9/11 and the War on Terror, directed by Brian Knappenberger, gathers all the necessary information for those seeking education about 9/11 and the circumstances surrounding it. As someone who was wasn’t even two years old when 9/11 happened, it helps me understand that 9/11 was a devastating event, in a series of devastating events that came both before and after September 11th.
Turning Point interweaves facts, testimonies of those involved at every stage, and real-life footage. Animations are used to seamlessly weave all these strands together, creating a docuseries that is cohesive throughout all five episodes. Most importantly, it’s clear that everyone interviewed was treated respectfully, and not exploited for the benefit of making a dramatic documentary. Turning Point truly feels like a moment of catharsis for everyone involved and every viewer watching.
AMERICAN MURDER: THE FAMILY NEXT DOOR
Director: Jenny Popplewell
Prolific serial killer Ted Bundy was often thought of as attractive, charismatic and the boy next door type. Therefore, his horrific crimes were so difficult to believe, and are the reason why Bundy has gone down as one of the most paradoxical serial killers of all time. The same may be said for 33-year-old oil field operator Chris Watts, who although isn’t a serial killer, did murder his pregnant wife and two children in the early hours of August 13th 2018.
American Murder: The Family Next Door, directed by Jenny Popplewell, is a documentary film that chronicles the Watts case. A reflection of how quickly this case was cracked, American Murder analyses Chris Watts and his crimes over a period of an hour and a half. This documentary will give you whiplash, as in a matter of minutes, Watts goes from a seemingly loving and devoted father to a remorseless killer.
What makes this transition more eerie, and the documentary truly unique in its style, is victim Shanann Watts practically narrates it herself. An avid Facebook user, Shanann liked to share her life online through video. With these videos she paints a clear portrait of a loving family for viewers to witness. Featuring in them, is said devoted father Chris Watts, who although will happily dress up as Father Christmas to surprise his children, has no issue stuffing their lifeless bodies into oil drums.
American Murder: The Family Next Door is a quick watch but will stay with you for a long time.
Directors: Barbara Schroeder & Trey Borzillieri
On 28th August 2003, 46-year-old pizza delivery man Brian Wells walks into a bank in Pennsylvania. Appearing calm, he demands the bank teller give him $250,000 by handing her a note. To investigators of this heist, it would have been a clear-cut case. This is, of course, until an officer approaches a cuffed Wells in a nearby parking lot and cuts away his shirt, revealing a bomb strapped around his neck. With guns and cameras fixated on him, Wells begs for the officers to bring him the key and free him. Though nobody moves, and soon it’s too late, as the bomb eventually detonates and kills Brian Wells. It is here that the conspiracy begins.
Over time, the case evolves into something extremely complexed with too many unreliable participatory figures to keep count. Although Evil Genius is about a heist, and the part Wells had to play in it, it is also about multiple murders, a possible suicide and conspiracy. What links all these crimes together you ask? Well, Marjorie Diehl-Armstrong is your answer. Deemed the evil geniusand the inspiration for this documentary’s title, Diehl-Armstrong was once a high-achieving graduate student. However, by 2003 she was deemed as one of the most calculated, murderous women in America’s recent history.
Produced by Duplass Brothers Productions and narrated by Trey Borzillieri, Evil Genius is a compelling documentary that weaves information together cohesively. All the footage from news reports or police interviews, animated maps created for the purpose of viewer understanding, and real-life evidence have been edited in a style indicative of a time capsule. The viewer feels as though they have opened the case file themselves, and all the monstrous evidence has fallen into their laps. This makes for an extremely engaging documentary, that has style as well as substance, which is rare to find in a series of the true crime genre.
JEFFREY EPSTEIN: FILTHY RICH
Director: Lisa Bryant
Jeffrey Epstein was an American financier and socialite, friends with some of the richest and most famous people in the world. However, in 2005, an investigation began into claims of sexual abuse and sex trafficking at the hands of Jeffrey Epstein. This investigation would continue for over a decade and reveal horrifying truths about Epstein and the people closest to him. In Netflix’s Jeffrey Epstein: Filthy Rich, director Lisa Bryant follows these revelations with real-life footage interspersed with accounts from the victims and the accused.
Filthy Rich is a documentary that certainly has flaws, such as its inclusion of interviews with Epstein’s defence lawyer Alan Dershowitz. Due to the interviews being conducted with journalistic neutrality, his presence here feels like nothing more than an opportunity for him to plead his innocence. With his testimony peppered amongst that of the victims, it does at times feel exploitative and in bad taste.
Nonetheless, Filthy Rich still deserves a place on this list as it is thorough in its exploration of Jeffrey Epstein, his crimes, and the vice-like grip the wealthy have on the judicial system. Filthy Rich also documents a different kind of power, the type wielded by the victims who have gone on to achieve incredible things in the face of adversity and offers hope to sexual assault victims around the world. In this way Filthy Rich isn’t just a wake-up call, but a testimony to survivors that there’s life after tragedy.
Although Epstein passed away in 2017, many of his co-conspirators live on and have not yet been held accountable for their parts to play in the destruction of many young girls’ lives. Jeffrey Epstein: Filthy Rich acts as a reminder of why that accountability is so important.
Be among the first to receive our monthly updates with film news, movie-inspired recipes and exclusive content! You’ll only hear from us once a month. #nospam