Documentary series about real crimes are rapidly gaining an audience. We figure out what it is connected with and which samples of the genre it are worth paying attention to. One of the high-profile premieres of recent months on the Netflix streaming service was the series “Killer Ratings”, filmed in the genre of true crime (“real crime”). Its director Daniel Bogado told about the case of Wallace Souza, a Brazilian television presenter, and politician who, according to the authorities of the country, was involved in organizing the killings to send the film crew to the scene of the crime in hot pursuit. Thus, according to the investigation, he sought to increase the popularity of his program and strengthen his status as a fighter against lawlessness.
“Killing ratings” are little similar to “Breaking Bad” but it is still difficult to get rid of associations. Like Walter White, Souza pretended to be a respectable citizen, but in fact, was a criminal authority. Well, or was not: Daniel Bogado leaves us room for doubt because many witnesses were sure that the case was fabricated by local law enforcement agencies, which (supposedly) did not like that Souza was meddling into their affairs.
One way or another, what “Breaking Bad” and “Killing ratings” have in common is their sharpness and unpredictability. Sharp turns during the investigation, new defendants, chases, and detentions. Enemies turn into friends - and vice versa. Faceless extras suddenly turn out to be dangerous criminals. The question of whether the investigation will succeed in catching Souza or not is up in the air almost until the end. “Killing ratings” look like a detective story, keep in suspense, and this is the main secret to the success of the true-crime series.
The true-crime genre is universal: it hits at the same points as the popular ones that go on prime time talk shows. There is intrigue, drama, character development, a flair of scandalousness, since the directors' attention is focused on resonant, ambiguous matters.
True-crime does not just describe a phenomenon but touches on topics that are painful for most: sexual abuse, missing children, meeting a maniac, the likelihood of going to jail, even if your guilt is not completely proven, etc. Stories about real crimes are more frightening than tales about fictional crimes.
Watching a documentary series about the criminal world, we are as if preparing for a possible encounter with it. We remember when and where it is better not to leave the child alone. We wonder how to recognize the robber in an unremarkable stranger. We figure out what to do if you are accused of an offense that you did not commit, etc. Eventually, our brain is evolutionarily focused on collecting information that can help us ensure our own and posterity’s safety.
However, there are five, seven or more episodes that allow the authors to accommodate in the next documentary crime drama not only killers and victims. This format is perfect to talk about social problems, to raise some important issues of a moral and ethical nature. Let's say Wallace Souza did lead a gang that committed murders for ratings. But after all, usually notorious bandits were his victims. Well, maybe he did it for the better? Or not? Was he a trembling creature or did he have a right?
The true-crime genre offers us a completely different, much more sublime and complex artistic language of narration about events that used to be represented in tabloids and shows with a dubious reputation. Thus, its apparent freshness and uniqueness are explained. But such series is based on the quite ordinary, natural feelings and desires of the audience: fear, anxiety, curiosity, the desire to feel superior to clumsy cops who cannot add two and two.
In addition, there is the inherent human need for validation, acceptance, and praise. It is to look good and kind in the eyes of society. From this point of view, any criminal is a very convenient object for comparison: against his background, our petty misconduct and transgressions seem much less significant. Especially if the offender is real. So who knows, perhaps Wallace Souza was ruined as a result of his thirst for approval, not for money and power.
We recommend you watch the following series.
In 1969, in the city of Baltimore, Maryland, sister Katie Chesnik, who taught at a local Catholic school disappeared under mysterious circumstances. Her body was found two months later, but the identity of the killer was never established. Nowadays, Katie's former students and director Ryan White with them tried to figure out what happened almost half a century ago. It turned out that behind this crime lies a whole series of others, no less terrible. “The Keepers” is a piercing filmed documentary series with great tenderness and compassion stating that people who should protect children, often become their main source of danger.
The case of the girls from Alcasser became one of the most resonant in the recent history of Spain: in 1992, three schoolgirl friends, Miriam, Toni, and Desiree, went to the club in the evening. On the way, they were abducted for rape, and then brutally killed. The authors of the series sought not only to lead us through the labyrinths of a long and confusing investigation but to show how one crime can suddenly change the face of national television and seriously affect the formation of public opinion regarding gender-based violence. Moreover, the most controversial figure, in the end, turned out to be not a hypothetical murderer, but the father of one of the girls, who either was ready to fight for the honor of her daughter until the victorious end or decided to earn more money, using the attention of the media.
A mini-series shot by HBO at a time when interest for the genre began to grow. The wealthiest entrepreneur Robert Durst, a native of an influential family of New York developers, lived a life that looked more like a thriller than a detective. Suspected of a series of murders, he was hiding, posing as another person, weaving a web of lies around his personality, and as a result agreed to give a rather detailed interview to the film crew, during which he unwittingly told away his involvement in the crimes.
Three-year-old Englishwoman Madeline McCann disappeared directly from her apartment in the Portuguese resort town of Praia da Luz, where the family spent their holidays. Local police and journalists embarked on an investigation with such enthusiasm that among the suspects were random people, whose lives were destroyed by provocative headlines in the yellow newspapers. The series’ issues are by no means limited to a private history. With the help of world-renowned experts, it explains in detail why cases involving the abduction of children cause so many emotions among strangers and why this often interferes and does not help the investigation.
In 2001, falling from the steps, the wife of the American writer Michael Peterson died. The investigation found the circumstances of her death suspicious, and Peterson fell into a whirlwind of many years of proceedings. “The Staircase” is an extraordinarily detailed, unexpectedly fascinating excursion into the work of the American judicial system when a person who has a name and money is sitting on the bench of the accused, and he can afford to hire renowned lawyers, a jury specialist, and even a speech trainer.
A relatively recently released, but already recognized as classic, documentary detective series about Stephen Avery - an American who served 18 years on charges of rape and attempted murder, but was subsequently acquitted thanks to the development of DNA analysis technologies. It was only after Avery was released that he became a defendant in a high-profile case again. His case is extremely complicated and contradictory, so the story about him lasted for two full-fledged seasons. It was the success of “Creating the Killer" that opened the way for true-crime series to a large audience.