“American Murder: The Family Next Door” Review

The documentary American Murder: The Family Next Door is a tragic story about a man named Chris Watts who murders his pregnant wife, Shan’ann Watts, and their two daughters, 4-year-old Bella and 3-year-old Celeste.

This family seemed like any other typical, happy American family on the surface. The title for this documentary is perfect, seeing as this was the normal family next door to the Watts’s neighbors. Underneath this picture-perfect was a broken home caused by a cheating husband. It is believed that his affair was his motivation for murdering his entire family; he wanted to have a new one with his girlfriend.

Watts, after committing these murders, pretends that he has no idea where Shan’ann and the girls went. He even goes on the news to ask them to come home in a very monotone and emotionless manner. After being brought in for questioning and after failing the polygraph test, Watts claims that he did strangle his wife, but only because she had killed the girls. He eventually confesses to committing all three murders and advises police on where they could locate Shan’ann, Bella, and Celeste’s bodies.

This film consists of home videos, body-camera footage from the first cop who arrives on the scene, interrogation room footage, security videos, social media messages, and text messages. These factors, along with the dramatic narration, made for a great documentary.

While this film is very well-made, it seems a bit intrusive at times. The documentary includes explicit text messages from Shan’ann depicting her sexual relationship with Chris leading up to the murders. This is very personal information and considering she is not alive to be able to consent to these messages being shown to the world, it seems inappropriate, although I see the intention; the text messages do show how their relationship was leading up to Shan’ann’s death.

Because of the amount of footage retrieved from Shan’ann’s social media accounts, it almost feels less real. It appears like any other form of entertainment, meanwhile, it is a disturbing tragedy that happened in real life. One aspect that I especially liked about the film is that it is centered around Shan’ann, who is the victim, rather than the perpetrator.

American Murder: The Family Next Door is a well-made documentary that is deeply disturbing and hard to even imagine happening. The subtitle, The Family Next Door hints towards the fact that this event is not isolated and it can happen anywhere. This tragic story was told in a very meaningful way, hopefully giving some justice to Shan’ann, Bella, and Celeste.