This is a Netflix doc without an official rating. It probably is TV-MA, simply due to the sexual nature of the documentary. It is definitely worth a watch for its message alone.
DIRECTORS: Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk
Can we meet a small town sheriff who isn't corrupt and horrible in a documentary? I know they exist. Heck, there's probably a ton of them. But gosh darn there's some horrible people in places of power in documentary world.
Like many documentaries, I have to critique this one in terms of content and in terms of presentation. I want to talk about presentation first because it is extremely effective, but also secondary to the message provided. I'd like to leave on the important note. Considering that this is a documentary about rape culture in a digital age, the movie has to walk the fine line of deciding how to present this informaton that is both authenthic to the teenage experience while presenting things clearly. There is a fine line between authentic documentary and 60 Minutes report and that really comes from the graphics. From the first moment of having the rapists interviews come through in animated form, the movie presents the tone of what it is like to be a teenager today. And it works. Most of the evidence against the rapists is presented in Facebook Chat mode, transcribing conversations between parallel stories Audrie and Daisy. Similarly, very little information is given about the people in the town who tortured these girls with the exception of the image of houses surrounded by whatever Tweets were posted from that address.
The effect is haunting. In a digital culture, Tweets are both simultaneously disposable and permanent. Filmmakers Cohen and Shenk use the camera effectively to illustrate when paranoia is actually reality by linking Tweets with the homes surrounding the families. It's horrifying to have a bird's eye view of the neighborhood being blocked by an offensive amounds of disgusting hateful tweets.
And this is the format that surrounds a deeper topic. The movie is extremely upsetting and graphic, but I think I want my daughter to see this documentary before she goes to high school. As a 33 year old male, my problems are very different. It isn't to say that I don't have problems, but I've never known what it means to be a teenage girl, especially in a digital age. Social media only really became a thing in college for me and it was the Wild West. No one knew the permanent effects of digital culture and what that meant for the long haul. But that message got out really quickly with the arrival of Facebook, yet many students have no idea what it means to have a digital trail. Even worse, the generation after me compounded the issue with the creation of cyberbullying. Cyberbullying seems so innocuous, but the tie to sexuality and vulnerability is troubling. Both of these girls deal with a culture built around legitimizing rape, but rather than looking at rape as something that happens between two people, it latches onto an entire community. A photo can be spread by phone in an instant. Every camera is Pandora's Box. That implies complicity in an action. Who is there to enforce the law when the entire town is against you.
I've always been pretty anti-sports too and this movie didn't help. I could go on a whole tirade about sports and I can hear defense after defense on how sports saves lives. But I feel that there's something about athletics that becomes like a secret society. If you can throw a ball, the world can defend you from whatever comes your way. I know this isn't absolutely the way things work and the worst is whatever is painted in documentaries, but this one didn't help my opinion of high school sports and its importance to the world around it.
This movie is rough. It's really well made and Netflix has done a phenomenal job of providing access to some spine-chilling subject matter that needs to be seen. The only real weakness to the movie is keeping straight the two girls' very similar stories. it is important to know that their tales are typical of the digital rape experience, but it does make it hard to tell which story is receiving the brunt of the focus at what time. I often didn't know who was related to whom, but that's such a small part of a much more important movie.
The movie isn't easy to watch, but it is a tale that needs to be told and heard.
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.