Abducted in Plain Sight (2017) review

I have a confession: I’m completely obsessed with the crime documentary genre. The Imposter, Making a Murderer, Britain’s Darkest Taboos: I’ve seen em’ all. However, bizarrely, the documentary that contains not one act of murder, turns out to be the most completely insane of them all. Abducted in Plain Sight has taken to Netflix this year, despite being released back in 2017, and the internet has exploded with a collective cry of ‘what the hell was that.’

The documentary starts off the way you’d expect this sort of thing to go. It chronicles the titular abduction of Jan Broberg, a young girl in Idaho, whose family friend Robert Berchtold is revealed as a paedophile. Amidst a multitude of sexual assault instances, he kidnaps Jan and takes her to Mexico to marry her and brainwashes her to believe one of the most mental rhetorics you’ve ever heard. It’s about at the 20 minute mark, that the story nosedives into absolute madness. Both parents, Bob and Mary Ann are shown to have incredibly naive and questionable decision making powers, making you wonder why they agreed to have their story made into a movie at all. I shan’t give away any more details, but this story is jaw droppingly baffling, and will have you shouting at the television in frustration more than any work of fiction. Of course, it must also be said that the documentary does put the focus on the party truly at the centre of blame: the monstrous Berchtold.

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Director Skye Borgman has discussed the possibility of a sequel, and potentially even a trilogy using the material. This feels not only insensitive, but also explains the lack of coherency during some scenes. It certainly feels that pieces of the puzzle are missing, as some parts of the film are explored in great depth, while others are skipped over in rushed time jumps. It feels like at least an additional half hour of content would’ve done Abducted in Plain Sight, a great deal of good. As it is, the editing choices make many of the players, particularly parents Bob and Mary Ann, seem not only incompetently bad parents, but deranged sociopaths, who only call the cops after their daughter has been missing for an entire five days. Just like that sink in. FIVE DAYS. 

As a result of this, the sharp, choppy editing style feels a bit misplaced. In a story with such crazy movements, a more restrained style of documentary feels like a more appropriate choice. The choice to not use a narrator also feels a missed opportunity, adhering more to a popular style of modern documentary, rather than an appropriate creative choice. Equally, the reconstructed elements are uncomfortable to watch, and are sometimes cringe worthy, both in their content and performance. I’m not a fan of reconstructions when it comes to sensitive content in general: I feel like we get the picture from the description, but these take it to another level. The music choices work fine, but again, some of the sound design for the reconstructions is heavy handed to the extreme: I don’t feel we need a real child reading Jan’s letters to Robert, for example.

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Overall, Abducted in Plain Sight tells a fascinatingly macabre story, with more plot twists than an M. Night Shyamalan movie. It’s as deeply disturbing as it is compelling, and will have you considering how you’d act such a situation. Presumably, you’d make better choices than Bob and Mary Ann. Though it’s well made, there are elements of the story that feel missed, which is frustrating as a viewer. That said, I highly recommend you see it for yourself, on Netflix. It truly has to be seen to be believed and you’ll find yourself picking your jaw off the floor with staggering frequency.

★★★

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