Making a Murderer (2015)
Written and directed by Moira Demos & Laura Ricciardi.
I’m not late to the party! I first watched this Netflix ten-part documentary at the height of its popularity, but I decided to re-watch it in time for the release of it’s much anticipated second season, whenever that may be. Plus, for this doco in particular, you notice far more on the second go once you are over the initial shock experienced first time round.
Netflix’s Making A Murderer documents the trials and tribulations of Wisconsin salvage yard-worker Steven Avery. After serving eighteen years of the original thirty two for the rape and attempted murder of Penny Bernstein, new DNA evidence finds him – a man who continually pleaded his innocence – acquitted. Having felt quite disheartened and frustrated by this point already, I found the gap between liberation and handcuffs far too short. Just two years after his release (but merely the end to the first episode!), the then forty three year-old Avery is arrested on suspicion of murdering Teresa Halbach – an Auto Trader photographer he’d commissioned to help sell vehicles on many occasions. It also brings Steven’s nephew Brendan Dassey into the mix, with he also standing trial for supposedly assisting Steven.
I think the few that dive headfirst into this documentary series knowing the narrative will have a completely different experience to those in the dark. But, this isn’t to say that anyone aware of the outcome won’t still be moved. I would say I actually felt more emotional and impassioned the second time round. The annoying yet brilliant aspect of this film is it answers fewer questions than it raises, though to delve too far would be to remove the emotional impact and (ironically) be an injustice to the series. It’s safe to say this show is, much to our annoyance, unafraid to leave questions unanswered.
I don’t think I had a problem with the structure. Demos and Ricciardi evidently put work into a consistent timeline, both visually and verbally explaining key events and facts. It was easy to follow, and I felt the combination of different footage was principled. The sheer length of Making a Murderer however hints at the complicated editing process. I wonder if it was meant to be ten hours in duration? This is a true story after all, so it is imperative the filmmakers do the contributors justice, and take care not to exploit their contributions. They’ve been clever here though. I don’t think it would be foolish to say the series is very much in favour of highlighting the evidence to suggest Avery and Dassey are innocent, but did the filmmakers include anything other than mainly interviews/courtroom footage/footage used as evidence?
This is my argument. Yes, ‘clever editing’ makes you believe Avery is innocent, but how much of the documentary was actually fabrication or people’s ‘opinion’? To me, the evidence is presented to us very distinctively, so how can you come to any other conclusion than not guilty? That creepy buffoon Ken Kratz happens to offer this explanation in his book (of course). My opinion however is very pronounced – I think they are both innocent.
The series has urgency, but in that urgency, there’s also occasional sloppiness. Shady, reluctant lawyers and law-enforcement figures blend together with a fuzzy sense of who reports to whom or who represented whom and when. It’s sometimes hard to tell which interviews are exclusive or when they were conducted, but it is obvious they are genuine. Generally, the passing of time is hard to chart but I feel like you can tell the directors felt this too. They have resorted to using title cards, timelines, announcing dates and even month-by-month montages of overhead shots. It worked for me, though.
Seeing as the series isn’t going to answer them for me, I have to express the burning questions I so desperately wanted answering.
- Can a low IQ really make you so emotionless? Why did Steven and Brendan stay so calm during what they claim was a huge pile of lies?
- Why didn’t they protest more!!!!
- Did anyone else think the ex-boyfriend and brother were extremely suspicious? Were they questioned any further than we saw?
- Did Steven’s lawyers focus too much on law enforcement planting evidence? Surely if you are innocent, you should have enough evidence to prove this.
- However, was Steven doomed from day one? Does anyone actually believe he had a chance in hell of winning this trial?
- WHO FOUND KEN CREEPY KRATZ UNCOMFORTABLE TO WATCH?!
- How could law enforcement be so dodgy in the state of Wisconsin?
- Are they guilty?
- What did the jurors see that we didn’t? Why do we think its glaringly obvious but they clearly didn’t?
I found the interrogations of both Steven and Brendan uncomfortable to watch. I found myself shaking my head, sighing at this evident injustice. It was so frustrating to watch! How on earth did this stand up in court? This was actually considered evidence, despite Brendan’s legal aid being dismissed for allowing Brendan’s interviews to continue without representation. They still used the interview in court though!
It leads me to the despondency and sorrow I felt for the entire duration of the series. Time and time again it was bad news for both Steven and Brendan and their family, with literally zero hope of anything good coming their way in the future. Steven’s likeable and ‘heartthrob’ lawyers failed, and the tone and mood of the series really took a beating. The Halbach family remained quite disconnected and distant throughout the documentary, which regrettably raised my suspicions greatly. I read somewhere they were offered the chance to be involved but politely declined. I don’t know about you but the whole thing just feels offbeat.
The melancholy experience throughout is quite hard to swallow. A young girl has met a harrowing and disturbing end, and two potentially innocent men have paid the price for it. Or are the right two in jail?
If you haven’t already, please watch it. You’ll find it disconcerting, and somewhat bewildering. You’ll gasp, and you’ll never just be able to watch one episode at a time. If you are like me and have quite an impulsive attitude, you’ll research and invest in every conspiracy book going once you’ve finished. It’s excellent, but the unanswered questions leave me hanging just a little too close to the edge. So, it’s four stars from me!