A Netflix documentary with an unbelievable, horrifying, and fascinating story told very poorly.
The film follows the true story of the kidnapping and brainwashing of Jan Broberg by Robert Berchtold in the 1970’s. The story of how this pedophile got initial access and continued access to this vulnerable young girl over the course of many years is unbelievably disturbing and borderline absurd. The film veers toward to edge of credibility often. It couldn’t be believed if it was a true story.
The problem with the film is how this story is told. The films official runtime is 91 minutes. It should be twice that length. The film crams so much into such a short amount of time that nothing has a chance to really sink in. Jan is taken. Her parents don’t call the cops for four days. Jan is told she’s been abducted by aliens and that she is in fact an alien herself and that she must have a child to save her home planet. Meanwhile both her parents have had sexual relations with her captor. Meanwhile he’s taken her to Mexico. All this information is dumped on the audience within a span of ten minutes. It’s too much too fast. The insanity of the story mounts with breakneck speed and never slows down to allow the audience to understand or feel the implications of what is being told.
The film also has a problem with context. It never establishes its time or place. The world of the 1970s’ when these events occurred is never given attention. What was going on in the world? What was the community these people lived in like? Did people know about pedophilia like they do today? A lot of people have talked about how stupid these parents were. Yes their actions as depicted int he film as stupid, but there is no context in which these decisions were made. The film never tells us what motivated anyone in the film. It describes what they did, but never takes the time to explain why they did it and what motivated the actions. The film doesn’t seem interested in context or the reason why. This is huge loss. This is a terrible shame.
The film also suffers from a lack of perspectives. There are only a handful of subjects interviewed for this film. The family, the brother of Berchtold, and the FBI agent who worked their case. There are no other commentators on this case no one to offer background of psychological insights. This lack of voices limits the films vision and limits the scope of the story. The film has only one visual flourish. That is to show reenactments shot on period cameras that look like home movies. This is a nice trick to avoid constant static shots of interviewees. However it does call attention to the lack of subjects and the lack of research done. Are there no other photos or genuine home movies or news reports they could have shown? Is there nothing else they could have used to break up the visual stagnation?
The story is undeniably fascinating. The message is an important one. This is just a story that deserved more time and attention. It needed to be longer and bigger in scope. Instead it’s a frustrating and fascinating movie that could have been a lot better.
A letter grad – C- It’s not my cup of tea.