TV-MA. I thought that Netflix stopped rating their movies with the TV scale and shifted towards the MPA version of ratings. I mean, this is another true crime documentary. Perhaps the only thing that makes it a little bit more questionable is that this is gangland murders. That means that there are a lot of personalities that use foul language regularly and discuss drugs and sexual actions pretty casually. It's not like these things should be considered worse than murder, but it's something to consider.
DIRECTOR: Fredrick Munk
My wife thinks that I might be OCD. Like, actually OCD. I might have a functional form of OCD. I just really get these dopamine rushes by being able to meet goals and ensure organization. I don't know if that makes me OCD, but I can kind of see where she's coming from when it comes to Why Did You Kill Me? I remember seeing the trailer thinking, "Oh, my wife would really like this movie." I put it on. My wife claims that it wasn't grabbing her attention. So Why Did You Kill Me? ended up sitting on my Netflix "Continue watching..." list. I can't have that, can I? So I finished it, even though I started it for my wife.
I remember when the idea of a true crime doc was going to be the talking point of the season. These are the halcyon days of Making a Murderer season one and the first season of the Serial podcast. We're at a point of the cultural zeitgeist where we have commentary on true crime, long-form storytelling. There might have been a time when Why Did You Kill Me? could have changed the world. Munk has something of an interesting voice when it comes to directing and presenting documentary footage. But the actual content of Why Did You Kill Me? seems like a bit of a con. The movie rests so intensely on the notion of MySpace being used to catch a killer. It is one of those rare stories of Catfishing being used in a positive way. But then the movie isn't necessarily centered on the social media element of investigation, is it?
That's the problem. The trailer and the title kind of lie to create a sense of expectation that would be a really cool gimmick. The trailer presented this world where a gang slew a girl and a social media wiz decided to haunt these gang members through a digital ghost. There's an element to that, to be sure. But the story is actually a pretty cut and dry murder case. The digital ghostery is actually a pretty minor element. So the movie is almost lying about its own identity (ironic in a movie that claims to be about Catfishing). I can't deny that the intervention that the family presented with the creation of two separate MySpace accounts took a case that was becoming stagnant and reinvigorated it. That part is super interesting. But what the real story versus the expected story is night and day. This is a tale of a family that is poking a bear throughout the film and got lucky enough to survive the whole thing.
I don't think I've ever been in a situation where the mother of the victim became so unsympathetic at times. I mean, that's a bit harsh. I can't even imagine what it would be like to lose a child. But the movie, if it wasn't for the MySpace element to it, could have had a much deeper, less predatory message when it came to Belinda Lane. Belinda, in the movie, is presented as pretty self-sabotaging. Because of her criminal record involving selling / using drugs, Belinda is skeptical of police help from moment one. (I'm going to get to a point about this in a second.) She and her sons keep making these toxic decisions about finding justice for Crystal that, by the time that the social media element shows up, they have completely made the case unsolvable. The MySpace idea doesn't come across as something brave and clever. Rather, it seems like a last ditch effort in a long scheme of really bad ideas. The only difference is that the MySpace idea worked to get more leads.
But this is where the documentary should have been focused. If the story wasn't so desperate to find its niche with the social media hook, there's actually an interesting social commentary going on there. What the documentary should have been about is the balance between finding justice for a daughter, completely innocent in a gangland killer, to maintaining an earned distrust of the police. The movie often tries painting Belinda as the aging, grieving mother. But every time she talks, she says something that is so toxic and unhealthy, that we are forced to fill in blanks for her. For example, the movie really speeds through Belinda's lying when interviewed. She refuses to speak to any police immediately after Crystal is killed. This is a moment of trauma and identity crisis. She was high when Crystal was killed and fell back to old habits of distrusting law enforcement. There's a story there. Similarly, Belinda's sons are in the same boat. One of Belinda's sons may have accidentally started the chain of events that led to Crystal's death. However, because of institutional poverty, the police were working from a perspective of pure fiction and that's the time that Crystal's murderers should have been investigated.
Or the film should have marketed itself as the gangland true crime story. (I'm really harping on the Internet choice as the weakest choice.) The most interesting thing that this movie pulled off was its examination of what it meant to be in a gang. Other stories have covered this, but the idea that gangs as institutions with predatory rules is actually spelled out quite well. Any time that there is an interview with a member of the gang, there's some real insight to how quickly things spiraled out of control the evening of Crystal's murder. God forbid, the movie actually had me garner sympathy for members of this gang who were involved in the shooting. There are monsters inside these gangs, but the film really stresses how these are mental toddlers who are over their heads, simply wanting acceptance and family, regardless of how evil that family might be. Belinda really wanted to murder this entire gang and she's fighting for Jokes' arrest. But really, Jokes seems like this guy who has this corrupted moral code that he doesn't really understand the severity of his actions in the death of this woman.
Similarly, there's the story of the two brothers who end up testifying against the 5150 gang. There's this story of how they understand that their lives are thrown into complete turmoil because the police investigated them looking for a connection. It's in that moment that their parents' house is burned down because they might have talked. The 5150s didn't even know if Manuel Lemus testified or not. They simply burned down the house. That's something. The movie contains this come-to-Jesus moment and it does nothing really with it because it really wants to connect to the Catfishing element. It's such a misstep. I shouldn't be leaving a true crime documentary bonding more with the gang members because there's more story and less with the victim's family, simply because the movie wanted to go against the current that the story tried taking naturally.
Geez, that's the whole problem, isn't it? Documentaries are meant to tell the stories they want to tell. Instead, this is a documentary that is trying to market itself against its own nature. Maybe the catfishing is what brought the idea to Munk's door, but the actual footage wanted to tell something very different. The movie wanted to be a story of loyalty and the dangers of poverty. But instead, we got a kind of forgettable doc that doesn't sell its central conceit.
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.