The horror buried in (pretty recent) history is presented in a straightforward pull-no-punches style that makes the bare facts all the more horrendous to absorb. In an overpopulated world, China's one-child policy sounds both sensible and pragmatic -- but when Nanfu Wang decides to investigate how exactly that policy was put into place, what she finds is positively haunting. She begins by taking a look at the propaganda that convinced young Nanfu that the policy was a positive one: the operas, posters, signs, national televised specials, and even children's songs that praised three-person families. "You'll go to jail!" sings one adorable moppet on TV, warning those who have two or more kids. "Don't say I didn't warn you!" But though these cracked cultural artifacts are easy to laugh at, Wang and co-director Jialing Zhang are merely softening viewers up for the emotional body blows to come.
Things start getting grim as Wang and Zhang interview a former village chief, who holds the camera's gaze as he talks about state policy but drops his eyes when he relates incidents in which local families who had more than one child saw their houses destroyed, and worse, when a woman resisted abortion and/or sterilization, how officials would gather together and "force" her. Force? What? "Who'd want to recall such painful memories?" the chief mutters, refusing to go into details and insisting he would only "stand and watch" when such "f--ked up" things were happening. But the former "family planning" officials interviewed next are more brutally honest about the tens of thousands of babies they aborted, often for unwilling women who would "cry, scream, go crazy" on the table, or about how they sometimes induced live births and then murdered the babies. One family planner now only uses her skills to help infertile families have babies, hoping that the new lives she helps bring forth now will make up for the past actions she can't forgive herself for. Disquieting, shocking, and scarier than any horror movie, One Child Nation's unflinching account is hard to watch but impossible to forget.