American Murder: The Family Next Door Review – A Tragic and Devastating True Crime

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American Murder: The Family Next Door, a Netflix Original, presents the tragic story of the demise of a marriage, an unsuspecting wife, two loving daughters, which somehow veered off track into a sinister and unbelievable end.

A Netflix Original documentary directed by Jenny Popplewell, American Murder: The Family Next Door, builds the story behind the murders of Shanann Watts and her two daughters, Bella, 4, and Celeste 3, at the hands of her husband Christopher Watts.

As we understand the outcome, the documentary begins with a doorbell camera capturing Shanann, in the last image the public and her family will ever see of her alive, she is arriving home from a conference. Her friend waits in the car until she enters the home.


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The next day, the same friend is unable to reach her, hours go by, Shanann is unreachable. Her parents who live in North Carolina, were frantic and asked the neighbor to call the police and provide permission to enter the home.

The police in Frederick, Colorado explained without permission of the husband, Christopher, they could not enter the home. Finally, they gain access and the husband appears to be distraught over the absence of children's items that he considered attached to them. His wife's phone, however, an actual item that would be considered inseparable is still at the home.

The documentary moves into the background. We are introduced to Shanann, her daughters and her husband Christopher, through these vlogger style videos' which give the appearance of a young family loving life, each other, and their children.

The picture we see of Christopher with his daughters appear genuine, a loving, devoted father, and an equally dedicated husband.


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As the story continues, we see the fabric of the marriage was woven loosely, inter family dissension, both couples were born in North Carolina, and Shanann always felt his family resented her for whatever reason, possibly replacing them as the female in his life, and with two daughters, they were further displaced for his affections.

The documentary also uses social media to build the backstory and throughout the film the messages pop up alongside still photos. They move from bliss and happiness to concern, self-examination, self-blame, and what many would label as paranoia.

As this is a true crime, the outcome is known and heartbreaking. After an extended vacation with her family in North Carolina, in 2018, Shanann is sure he is seeing someone else. She emails a friend, and these texts appear online, which attests to her belief that Christopher, who wasn't able to get away for the entire vacation, was having sex with this someone else. His less than enthusiastic welcome when he did arrive, to her solidified her suspicions.


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The documentary also solidifies her suspicions. Christopher was seeing someone else, "the love of his life." Of course, like mindedness, sports enthusiast, without children, no obligations, and no financial troubles as he and Shanann were in bankruptcy. The new love of his life touched the carefree existence, the call of the open road, no obligation, freedom, that apparently, he desperately needed.

He had obligatory sex with Shanann which resulted in a pregnancy. For her it was the glue she thought would hold them together, for him it was the straw that broke the camel's back.


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Of course, again as we already know the ending, the police finally bring Christopher in for questioning. The failed polygraph is the tipping point. It isn't long after that he confesses to murdering Shanann but not before slandering her and attempting to blame her for the deaths of his two daughters.

American Murder: The Family Next Door presents a heartbreaking tragedy, a deeply sad outcome for what could have been handled through divorce.

There is no rational, reasonable, sound, or sensible justification. He wanted freedom, and I would say to recapture something that he felt he lost with marriage and chose a sinister and evil method to carry it out.

Told entirely through archival footage that includes social media posts, law enforcement recordings, text messages and never-before-seen home videos, director Jenny Popplewell pieces together an immersive and truthful examination of a police investigation and a disintegrating marriage. 

American Murder: The Family Next Door is the first film to give a voice to the victims. Releasing Globally on September 30, 2020

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