Remember the old “arrested development” axiom that “there is always money at the banana stand”? For streamers, that banana stand is a real crime, judging by the rate at which these movies are shown. Many of the lurid stories of kidnappings, murders, and stolen identities have already been covered in podcasts, but documentaries add tantalizing visual elements (photographs of the deceased, talking-head interviews, archival footage) that seemingly keep fans coming back.
Of course, as far as entertainment goes, this is nothing new. Flipping through cable stations from years ago would reveal many documentaries and docudramas telling similar stories. What has changed is how binge-watching it is (you can listen to endless podcasts and watch endless streaming shows, one after another) and, perhaps equally significantly, how the anonymity of the Internet has become a key feature of both crime and crime. the investigation.
Two of this week’s new releases fit this mold and also indicate the range of quality of these types of films, from passable to genuinely insightful. (Both, by the way, have already received the podcast treatment at least once.)
On the lower end is the Netflix documentary. “Lover, Stalker, Killer“ directed by Sam Hobkinson, which tells the ordeal a man named Dave Kroupa went through when he started receiving strange and threatening messages from an ex-girlfriend he met through dating apps. The story is slightly twisted and Kroupa and several others participate in the documentary, which makes it enjoyable to watch. But the main twist occurs far from the end of the film, and it’s hard to maintain tension after that. Most of the filmmaking also seems superficial. However, as our critic Glenn Kenny put it in his review.“At this point, these are accepted conventions, so there’s not much point in complaining.”
My expectations were not that high for Max’s documentary. “They called it mostly harmless“ directed by Patricia E. Gillespie, about a dead hiker found in Florida’s Big Cypress Nature Reserve. He was emaciated and had no identification but, interestingly, he did have food and cash. When trying to identify his body, law enforcement froze, having no idea who he was.
But I liked it, and what I liked most is what our critic Beatriz Loayza points out in her review: It’s not really about the identification itself. In fact, during some stretches of the film, one forgets that there is a corpse at the center of everything. Instead, it’s a film about the culture of true crime detectives on the Internet and, perhaps most clearly, why anyone would want to do that investigation in the first place. There’s also a layer beneath that: the question of why we get so hooked on mystery victims. In a late twist, “They Called It Mostly Harmless” questions the certainties that viewers, oblivious to a person’s life, project onto true crime stories.
That’s what interests me in these types of documentaries, because the real story is rarely just about the crime. The best documentaries turn the camera on us and ask us why we’re interested in the first place. The stories we tell about each other reveal more about us than they do.