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Parents' Guide to

American Murder: The Family Next Door

By Brian Costello, Common Sense Media Reviewer

age 15+

Murders, strong language in disturbing true-crime docu.

Movie NR 2020 82 minutes
American Murder: The Family Next Door Poster Image

A Lot or a Little?

What you will—and won't—find in this movie.

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Is It Any Good?

Our review:
Parents say Not yet rated
Kids say (9 ):

From a production standpoint, this documentary is very good. Told through raw (sometimes painfully so) footage like social media posts, police cameras, and texts, the horrific account of the disappearance of a Colorado woman and her two kids and the process of uncovering what really happened unfolds like a well-paced mystery story. The events and the backstory of the people involved are balanced, and the direct events of the disappearances, the discoveries, the trial, and the aftermath reveal how these murders were covered by the national media as well as the appalling participation in the case by many on social media.

The problem with American Murder: The Family Next Door is that this wasn't a mystery. A woman and two kids were senselessly murdered, and while there's a disturbing statistic at the end of the movie ("In America, three women are killed by their current or ex-partner every day."), the experience of watching this feels voyeuristic and downright creepy. Text exchanges in which the murdered woman discusses her sex life or lack thereof start to feel gratuitous. The spectacle of the story outweighs any attempt at substantive discussion about what might be done to prevent murders like these from happening. It leads one to wonder why cable channels and streaming services seem to prefer putting out far more sensationalized "documentaries" about Hitler, Ted Bundy, and incomprehensible acts of abhorrent criminality from deranged minds as opposed to documentaries on Mother Teresa, Civil Rights icons, and affirming acts of human decency and selflessness. Viewers are likely to leave this documentary feeling unsettled and disturbed.

Movie Details

  • On DVD or streaming: September 30, 2020
  • Director: Jenny Popplewell
  • Studio: Netflix
  • Genre: Documentary
  • Run time: 82 minutes
  • MPAA rating: NR
  • Last updated: February 18, 2023

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