Ten-part documentary breaks new ground in an old genre
In the wake of “Serial” and “The Jinx,” the wave of true crime documentaries that takes condensed Investigation Discovery, “Dateline” and “20/20” offerings to a whole new investigative level is only just taking off. Yet few will prove as addicting and morally stunning as Netflix’s December entry, “Making a Murderer.”
The 10-part doc hails from filmmakers Laura Ricciardi and Moira Demos, a duo that has spent a good part of the last decade cobbling together evidence, video footage, photographs and testimony to string a tale of a man who fell victim to the system not once, but potentially twice.
For those unfamiliar with the case of Steven Avery, a Wisconsin man who spent 18 years in prison for a rape he did not commit, this story is shocking at best and heartbreaking at worst. At 23 years old he became the target of a grudge-holding sheriff, who handcrafted the case against Avery while ignoring the true culprit, allowing the latter to go on and assault at least two more innocent women. Meanwhile, Avery lost his wife and five children, along with handfuls of appeals and pleas for his life back. Eventually he was exonerated through the Innocence Project and DNA evidence that led police to the right man, and seemed on track to win millions of dollars in a civil lawsuit against those who put him away.
That is, until Avery found himself behind bars again, this time for the murder of photographer Teresa Halbach.
But that’s just the first episode.
As the story weaves on, the corruption, abuse of power and questions raised about a lower class citizen with a questionable past are brought forward at every turn, with the filmmakers never relegating to a voiceover narrative or reenactments in order to tell the story. It’s a refreshing change of pace from the true-crime alternatives out there, one that is rooted in traditional documentary storytelling but manages to captivate audiences.
The point isn’t to spoon-feed viewers any conclusions or to bang them over the head with how Avery may have been mistreated; it’s to showcase the copious amounts of careful — and seemingly endless — research the filmmakers have extracted over 10 years. What they found is that there are an awful lot of questions that have gone unanswered, and many people in positions of power who have gotten away with some pretty shady dealings.
It’s a fitting entry for Netflix, the king of binge-watching, as it’s hard to hit pause on “Making a Murderer” once it’s rolling through the queue. Sure, it’s possible to simply Google Avery’s outcome and current status with the law, but even by doing so there are no spoilers; just a dark ending that calls for further investigation into a corrupt system, one that will make Avery, for better or worse, a household name alongside Adnan Syed and Robert Durst.
Netflix debuts all 10 episodes of “Making a Murderer” Friday, Dec. 19.