TV-14. Wait, that can't be right. TV-14? Like, an episode of Arrow or Supergirl is on the same level as this movie? I'm going to make it very clear, this movie needed to be a hard-R. Like, a real hard R. There's so much graphic description of many, many sex acts that it is insane that this movie is listed as TV-14. When I found out my students had seen this, I was shocked. Honest to Pete, this might be one of the most hardcore true crime stories I've ever seen. TV-14? Puh-leeze.
DIRECTOR: Skye Borgman
I like the original title better. I know. Controversial. You weren't ready for me to come out swinging like I did, but there you have it. It was originally named Forever 'B'. Yeah. That's got some meat to it. But I'm already off topic and I haven't even really started talking about the movie. Since I write a lot and I know that I have a few people who actually really read my stuff, besides you Spambot. (I know you just skim, Spambot. I'm just happy for the traffic numbers.) I've talked about my wife's love of good true crime stories. I've also really learned to get into them. See, spouses help us grow! The best of the true crime docs really somehow penetrate the cultural zeitgeist and trend super hard. Considering that this movie existed since 2017, I find it funny that the move to Netflix is what made everyone lose their minds. The thing is...this might be the most insane true crime documentary I have ever seen. PLEASE WATCH THE DOCUMENTARY BEFORE READING ON. GO IN TOTALLY BLIND. IT IS THE MOST INSANE DOCUMENTARY I'VE SEEN.
In terms of quality of documentary, I'm sorry Director Skye Borgman (a clearly made up name). This is some flimsy stuff. It's a few steps above Unsolved Mysteries or The E! True Hollywood Story. Part of what doesn't work for me, besides the opening font that just murders my soul, is how the re-enactments are presented. Sure, do re-enactments. Everyone does. I don't love them, but I also get that they pad out the film nicely while keeping the audience engaged. But the performances in this are made to look like they were shot on Super-8 to match the actual evidence presented. The events took place in the early '70s. Photos of the family and videos of Jan Broberg are used throughout. But then, Borgman got the exact same look for footage of her actors. It's actually kind of an impressive feat because usually that stuff looks like hot trash. But it looks good enough that it actually diminishes the footage that is real. Okay, that seems petty minor. But then there's the idea that I couldn't get out of my brain. Since Super-8 is meant to capture home movies, why would some of this stuff get filmed? Why would I want to see B making threatening phone calls if I was making home movies? Who is filming the most uncomfortable guys' time from the backseat? Do we really want these memories for later when we're loading up the reel-to-reel? It's an example of an idea that is executed perfectly that really actually detracts from the film as a whole. But you do not watch for the re-enactments. The re-enactments are a pact between the filmmaker and the audience. There are expectations of how a documentary is supposed to look and Borgman kind of covers herself with that element of the film. I want to give what props Borgman deserves before I get rolling because there is one simple fact that I can't shake: this movie sells itself.
Instead of setting up a sense of normality, like most documentaries do, only to have that normality stolen, Abducted in Plain Sight goes the other way with it. Within two minutes of the film starting, the movie dives right into the kidnapping. Yeah, the narrative jumps all over the place and we have some parts of the story told in flashback. But this movie moves like I haven't seen a documentary do. When I was watching the film, I kept pausing it and my jaw kept dropping. I know I'm not the only one to have that reaction based on on the memes I've seen about this story. My wife thought that I was doing a bit; that this was my schtick. What I thought I was getting into was a story that was going to scare me into taking care of my kids every second of the day, making sure that I would be constantly watching them every moment of their lives. Quite the opposite. (Those kids can do anything they want. Okay, I'm joking, but I don't want to lose momentum to explain.) Instead, I was reading where the wind was blowing. Instead of being a story about how any kid can and will get abducted, the story quickly reveals itself to be...if you are the worst parent ever. I don't know what it took to get the Brobergs on board for this documentary. You know know, I do know. The reason that the Brobergs are so forthcoming with this documentary is because they feel absolutely terrible with how badly they handled every step of the kidnappings. That's right, plural kidnappings. This movie is their attempt at atonement. From moment one, you realize that the Brobergs are as mild-mannered as humanly possible. They live possibly the most sheltered lives that have ever existed. Honestly, they are Buddy the Elf-level naive when it comes to parenting or handling crisis. The thing about the whole movie is that they never really learn how to deal with bad things until everything is kind of over. This is a movie where you scream at your television. The first thing that happens when Jan disappears is that they wait four days before calling the police. They don't want to bother anyone. You know that whole "First 48 hours" bit? Yeah, the police weren't involved until 96 hours or so. That's the least dumb thing that they do throughout the piece. The movie tries to give cultural context for some of their actions, mainly surrounding the idea that pedophilia didn't really exist in the '70s. I don't know if that's necessarily true. But it really pushes that story, so let's move on from there. But the movie becomes this absolutely chaotic web of "why are you making this decision?" and "that's the worst decision anyone could have made". A possible takeaway is that people don't really know how they would react if they live under a rock their entire lives. Bob and Mary Ann are the kind of people who post unverified clickbait as news stories on Facebook. They think that the world is one thing. Also, there's something absolutely troubling about the Brobergs. These are two people who are manipulated into doing things that go against everything that they say that they want. Bob's relationship with B seems like he can't even understand it today. Mary Ann's relationship with B actually makes me angry. I never doubt whether or not the Brobergs loved Jan, but their actions make me very callous to their situations. I wonder how they are living right now. We are all aware that the world is a terrible place and people have to be sending awful messages (death threats?) to these parents. But that just reaffirms that they are woefully naive about how the works. It's sad and upsetting and a bunch of other stuff. It's a story of people who want to live a quiet life free of the devil and the devil keeps on coming back.
There are documentaries that make me question the validity of the true crime genre. Abducted in Plain Sight seems to play up the idea that this story needs to be told. We watched Making a Murderer, The Staircase, and The Jinx. I always felt a little crummy finding entertainment on the death of real people. It's almost a new thing to experience the story of Jan Broberg. Jan survived. She is the lead point of testimony in this movie. While her parents seem dangerously ignorant of how the world works, Jan had to grow up remarkably young. She seems to understand more than most about what is appropriate and how this is going to be understood. She now is a leader in speaking out about child abuse and sexual abuse. From her perspective, this movie is drawing attention and acting as a cautionary tale about pedophilia. Jan is also an actress. She may not be a celebrity, but she's done her fair share of movies. Jan has lived out in the world. But there's something almost more gross when there is a survivor. Instead of distancing ourselves from the victim because we can only glean from testimony and evidence, we have Jan's actual perspective. We have her words and her thoughts about what was going on at the time. So Jan stays a little girl. Yeah, adult Jan is telling about her childhood. But we have her voice and her experiences after the fact. She's narrating the real thoughts of this girl going through this trauma. None of this is imagined. Instead, it is very earnest and scary. Maybe it is the parent in me, but I wanted to save Jan. I wanted to fix all of the mistakes that her parents made. I wanted that FBI guy to take complete control and let things play out the way that they were supposed to the first time. Jan as an advocate is an inspiration, but she's also a grim reminder that Jan was a real person. It does the same thing that Anne Frank does. We know the real experiences. It's troubling.
Abducted in Plain Sight is cultural cannon fodder. While it might be the least sophisticated of the true crime documentaries I have seen, it goes right for the heart for things I want to talk about. If I hear that someone has seen it, I instantly want to get in on that conversation. Does that make it right? Something in my conscience says no, but I can't honestly justify that. This movie is fascinating and shocking. And if you've seen it, come and talk. Apparently, it is what I crave.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.