As I backtrack to reporting out on the second film I watched over the weekend, I’m also taking a quick backtrack to my earlier fun of titling film review posts with emoji strings.
Because my initial response Abducted in Plain Sight cannot be summed up in any other way except with unending expressions of horror and the following declaration:
What the fuck did I just watch?
I’m not really much of a true crime aficionado—a claim that may be a bit hard to believe considering that 2 different theatre productions over the last few years have inspired me to gain basic-level expertise into both Jack the Ripper and Lizzie Borden.
But that was historical research in order to deepen my understanding of modern interpretations of those individuals and crimes. However diligent I was about that research, I completely skipped all the true crime podcasts and series I keep hearing about: Serial, Making a Murderer, Leaving Neverland, that Ted Bundy documentary and its Zac Efron-starring TV-movie adaptation……
Suffice to say that true crime has been having a bit of a resurgence, and I’ve been missing most of it.
So why this film and its retelling of the family saga around Robert Berchtold’s abduction and assault of pre-teen Jan Broberg? Well, I’d heard about it being a crazy roller-coaster ride of a story, and when I was aimlessly browsing Netflix Saturday evening, I had a moment of weakness.
A moment for which I have paid a karmic debt.
So yeah, the buzz is correct: this is a chain of events with so many improbabilities and such frequent twists and turns that it is legitimately hard to keep up as the documentary unfolds. Claire McNear in Ringer is pretty much spot on when she predicts that one response to the doc might very well be “to mutter ‘holy shit’ under your breath at five-minute intervals for an hour and a half.”
Blunter commentary about the film’s goes to 11 level of weirdness can also be found in the Twitterverse:
(More of these tweets and memes can be found here and here. Be warned that if you follow the link, some major “plot spoilers” will be revealed, if you care about that sort of thing.)
Unfortunately, the shock value is about all that this film provided. Given the juggernaut of events that are recounted here, I can understand how this documentary ended up being so jam-packed with the replay of events that there wasn’t time left for anything else.
But, even though I can kind of see how this imbalance in the film’s content occurred, I also think the film truly suffers for that lack. At their best, documentaries do so much more than simply retell a sequence of historical or biographical events. They illuminate those events, build empathy or understanding, or sometimes make connections between the past events and life today.
Any or all of those things could have enriched this film. And there was plenty of potential for that. There are questions to be asked about the church structure that knew of Berchtold’s past crimes, and whether that shared spiritual community helped the Broberg parents be so disastrously naive in their (in)actions. There are questions to be asked about the lenient sentences Berchtold served for his crimes, and the fact that as a convicted child sex offender, he was still allowed to purchase and run a “family fun center” as his primary business and source of income.
Those are all questions to be asked, and I’m asking them. But it would have been great had the documentary managed to answer any of them, or, quite frankly, any substantive question beyond:
And then what happened?
Image credit: Flickr user Marco Verch via a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.