Netflix’s documentary about the Watts family murders, American Murder: The Family Next Door, premiered on September 30, and it already has the internet floored. If you’re unfamiliar with the case, here’s a brief explainer: In 2018, 34-year-old Shanann Watts and her two young daughters went missing in Frederick, Colorado. It soon came to light that her husband, Chris, had murdered all three of them and disposed of the children’s bodies in oil tanks. He buried his wife, who was pregnant at the time of her death, in a shallow grave at his work site. The documentary breaks all of this down through never-before-seen footage from the case and investigation, plus heartbreaking texts between Shanann and Chris.
The case captured America’s attention for many reasons. For one, it’s particularly cold and horrific—a crime you have to constantly remind yourself actually happened to actual people. This isn’t just pop culture fodder, but a real tragedy that’s still affecting the Watts family today.
This crime is also shocking, disturbing proof of what privileges being white, male, and handsome can afford you. Chris deceived everyone in his life: his wife, family, friends, even the mistress whom he was planning to leave Shanann for. His lies did catch up with him, thank goodness, but they would’ve a lot sooner had he looked different. Even in the aftermath of Chris’s conviction, anonymous women online were actually defending him—justifying his indefensible actions by calling Shanann a “bitch” who “drove him crazy.” (The doc highlights this.) What does it say about our culture that we’re so quick to forgive and explain away the behavior of conventionally attractive people?
That’s just one thought I had after finishing American Murder: The Family Next Door. Viewers are taking to social media to express their thoughts, too. The consensus? What happened to the Watts family is senseless and unfathomable—and the documentary will leave a lasting impression.
American Murder: The Family Next Door is now streaming on Netflix.
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