American Murder: The Family Next Door (2020)

american murder the family next door poster 2020 documentary movie
8.0 Overall Score

Well constructed murder mystery

Feels over produced at points

Movie Info

Movie Name: American Murder:  The Family Next Door

Studio:  Knickerbockerglory TV

Genre(s): Documentary

Release Date(s): September 30, 2020

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

american murder the family next door chris watts police body cam footage

At this point, he knows where she is, what he did, and what he did to his kids…and he’s rather collected about it

Everything seemed perfect for Shanann Watts and her husband Christopher Watts.  When the expecting mother and her two girls disappeared from the Watts home after a business trip, a desperate search began for Shanann, Cece, and Bella.  No evidence of a struggle and no indication of a planned leaving, has the police questioning the motive behind the potential crime and fearing for the missing.  When the truth is revealed, the horror is worse than ever expected and the details behind the crime paint a chilling picture of a cold-blooded killing.

Directed by Jenny Popplewell, American Murder:  The Family Next Door is a true-crime documentary about the murder of Shanann Watts (January 10, 1984-August 13, 2018), her unborn child, Celeste “Cece” Watts (July 17, 2015-August 13, 2018), and Bella Watts (December 17, 2013-August 13, 2018) by Christopher Watts.  The documentary was released on Netflix on September 30, 2020.

american murder the family next door shanann cece bella watts

Three lives snuffed out in a matter of hours…and trying to place the blame on the victim

I vividly remember this case, and since it is relatively fresh in my memory, I even remember some of the interviews and specifics of the results as it unfolded.  Watching this documentary was a strange experience that bounced between watching something like Dateline and one of the longer form online documentaries made popular by streaming services.

The story is horrific and even if you know the ending, the events of how it got there make it even worse.  Like many documentaries, it doesn’t give the killer away first hand, but most already know who the killer is and most likely what happened to the family.  Instead of taking away from the documentary, it makes it all the more horrific.

The reason the horror grows is that the documentary is presented in real-time video which distinguishes it from shows like Dateline.  There is no narrator and no “after everything happened” reflective interviews from the people involved.  It is police body cam, doorbell cameras, and footage as it occurred.  The story’s direction and narration is provided through this footage and it follows it through the initial call to the sentencing.

american murder the family next door chris watts children cece bella

What can make a man do what he did to his kids?

Throughout the documentary, you also get to see a lot of Shanann Watts, Chris Watts, and their family.  Shanann seems to be the type of woman that puts it all out there on Facebook, so there is lots of the equivalent of “home movies” of personal moments of the Watts family.  Nothing seems wrong (she even recognizes she is controlling)…proving that you often don’t know what is going on behind closed doors.  It is in this area where the documentary fails slightly in that it feels like much of the Facebook and social media material is overproduced.  The movie does a great job letting video talk for itself, and these social media sequences are too stylized for the rest of the film.

The documentary is a tragedy.  There were so many ways out for Chris Watts and he chose the worst possible option.  It might have cost him a lot to walk away and his children might have hated him, but they would be alive, Shanann would be alive, their unborn baby would be alive, and he wouldn’t be in jail…the cost couldn’t equal what it ended up costing everyone.  It is cold reminder that murder isn’t a logical choice but it generally is a choice.  Chris Watts tells the police over and over again that he wishes he could have saved his children…he could have.  Even if it meant abandoning two children by the side of the road in Colorado, it was an option and a better option…instead horror and death was left in the wake of decisions that defy logic.

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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