(Credit: Netflix)

Documentary

The 10 best true-crime documentaries on Netflix

Netflix has a murder problem, and so do we! With an increasing interest in true-crime podcasts and shows, it is evident that our moral disengagement and alleged apathy towards homicide, abuse and other horrific criminal activities result from hours of mindless bingeing on crime films and series. 

Based on various events in the world, Netflix has released several documentaries and series to uphold the cases, starting from incorporating real-life investigatory footage, interviews and more. Riveting and compelling, these documentaries also serve as an eye-opener, providing us with an insight into the perverse depravity of the human condition. 

Every documentary is uniquely shot and presented. Gruesome, abhorrent and shocking, these true-crime stories are usually unsolved and stem from the brutal acts committed by notorious serial killers. Often heartbreaking, they are inconclusive and make us think and often spiral into a realm of melancholy.

However, if your true-crime loving heart is still craving for some compelling cases, tune in to Netflix to watch these 10 best true-crime documentaries streaming now: 

The 10 best true-crime documentaries on Netflix

10. Murder to Mercy: The Cyntoia Brown Story (Daniel H. Birman, 2020)

This fascinating documentary focuses on the 16-year-old stone-cold Cyntoia Brown, who has been sentenced to life imprisonment for having shot and killed her sexual assaulter. It delves into her past history, psyche, physiology while disrupting the very question of guilt and mercy. 

The story is poignant and extremely tragic. Cyntoia’s predicament mirrors one of many others living on the fringes of the society, bogged down by unemployment, economic, religious and other socio-cultural divides. Despite the sympathetic take on Cyntoia’s life, the documentary could have been way up on this list had it been a lot more well-paced.

9. Amanda Knox (Rod Blackhurst, Brian McGinn, 2016)  

Based on a sensational 2007 case, American student Amanda Knox goes to Italy for an exchange programme where she is charged with the murder of her roommate Meredith Kercher, leading to a series of draining investigations and subsequent imprisonment before acquittal.

The documentary is extremely gripping, with loads of interview footage from Knox, her ex, police investigations, journalists, and more. It thickens the mystery regarding Knox’s innocence as her final speech is incongruous to the slight and somewhat eerie smile. Although Knox insists that she had been “wrongfully convicted” and painted as “this terrible monster” or “this regular person who is vulnerable”, we shall never know what the truth is.

8. The Disappearance of Madeleine McCann (Chris Smith, 2019)

In a tale of a holiday-gone-wrong, the documentary focuses on the spine-chilling case of the abduction of Madeleine McCann. The young girl was taken from a Portuguese beach, just 100 yards away from the spot where her parents were enjoying their time with their friends.

The documentary is well researched and contains details about the investigation that took place surrounding McCann’s mysterious disappearance. Her parents, however, refused to engage in the creation of the documentary as they did not see it actively helping in their lifelong search for Madeleine on a “practical level”.

7. Killer Inside: The Mind of Aaron Hernandez (Geno McDermott, 2020)

This true-crime documentary focuses on American footballer Aaron Hernandez who was convicted of homicide. The three-art docu-series delves into his motive for murdering Odin Lloyd as well as other events in his life that left a deep impact on him.

The docu-series features interviews from family, friends, peers, journalists and officials who help understand the footballer’s story, who rose to fame and eventually dirtied his hands with blood, leading to eventual suicide. Compelling and well-garnished by the archival footage, the documentary is one of the finest ever made about Hernandez.

6. The Confession Killer (Robert Kenner, Taki Oldham, 2019)

The documentary is extremely riveting as it threatens to expose the most infamous American criminal justice farce while dealing with the case of Henry Lee Lucas, one of the United States’ most notorious serial killers who admitted to murdering hordes of people before DNA tests contradicted his claims.

A serial killer has a certain kind of a look, and Lucas is nothing like it. The documentary is a brilliant expose of the corruption that pervades the justice system. With interviews, trial footage and other sources, the documentary help recognise the twisted facade behind which the ugly face of justice conceals itself.

5. Don’t F**k With Cats: Hunting an Internet Killer (Mark Lewis, 2019)

The documentary entails the twisted and disturbing story of Luke Magnotta, who posts gruesome videos of him suffocating kittens which spark wild anger all over the internet. Soon enough, a horde of cyber-vigilantes set their sights on tracking him down.

Grisly yet engrossing, the documentary deals with issues ranging from homicide to animal abuse. It provides a close insight into the psyche of a deranged criminal while focusing on the various atrocious crimes that happen on the internet almost daily. Intriguing and terrifying, the docu-series may leave you cheering the Internet sleuths for their bravery that helped nab this abominable man.

4. Abducted in Plain Sight (Skye Borgman, 2017)

Disturbing and unsettling, the documentary focuses on the two-time abduction of Idaho teen Jan Broberg by her manipulative and perverted uncle Robert Berchtold who managed to convince Jan’s Mormon parents of the divine reason behind his actions of “grooming” Jan.

The documentary is a pretty painful watch as the naivete of the parents is disgusting. An abhorrent, depraved and vile man manages to inculcate religious beliefs into his twisted love for Jan, who in turn is brainwashed by him. The documentary incites rage, frustration, and anger at the parent’s wishful ignorance and Robert’s perverse actions and sheer pity and agony for the poor Jan

3. The Keepers (Ryan White, 2017)

Based on the infamous and unsolved 1969 homicide case of a nun named Catherine Cesnik, the documentary helps uncover the horrifying secrets that plagued the institution and the agony that her death left behind decades later. 

 This gut-wrenching documentary sheds important light on the muted child abuse that goes on behind closed doors everywhere, especially in Catholic institutions. The depravity of the human mind and the false constructs set up by religious institutions are exposed. Although the seven-part series was considered an outcry against Catholicism, White cleared all claims by saying how he wanted to use the film as means to understand the horrors of child abuse that is covered up on a daily basis.  

2. Casting JonBenet (Kitty Green, 2017)

The notorious and unsolved death of the six-year-old American beauty queen JonBenet Ramsey becomes the documentary’s focal point. While it does not linger on the act of crime itself, it instead focuses on how her death became a pop-cultural event, sparking urban legends and various other theories.

Unsettling and compelling, the documentary is a wonderful commentary n the human condition that tends to commercialise every tragic event. The film comes complete with interviews and footage from various personnel as well as the townsfolk who had a lot to add. The documentary shows how Ramsey’s death becomes a point of conspiracy and controversy at the hands of people who are devoid of empathy and compassion.

1. American Murder: The Family Next Door (Jenny Popplewell, 2020)

The documentary focused on the harrowing 2018 incident when a 34-year-old Colorado woman named Shanann Watts and her two young daughters went missing that led to a series of investigations that ultimately uncovered certain disturbing and heartbreaking truths.

Providing intimate insight into the lives of the Watts family, the documentary is indeed heartbreaking. Incorporating original footage from police archives as well as surveillance videos from the Watts home helped add a sense of morbid realism to it and complimented the rising tension before the climax.