Why Did You Kill Me? is a fresh true crime documentary just taken out of the oven by the folks at Netflix for an early Spring release. It details the 2006 murder of 24-year old Crystal Theobald in Riverside, California, also delving into the extensive fallout that stemmed from the tragic event and the police’s investigation into its connection to a local gang known as “5150”. Crystal’s mother, Belinda, subsequently seeks to track down her daughter’s killer through the now-antiquated annals of MySpace.
The film vacillates between a dynamic collection of narrative formats in an attempt to keep its audience engaged for the entirety of its relatively brief run time (the film clocks in at just under 90 minutes). Ultimately, despite some hiccups along the way, I thought it largely succeeded in its efforts. Fredrick Munk, a directorial rookie whose previous filmmaking experience resides in documentaries as well, utilizes a variety of storytelling techniques to explore the numerous threads of the real-life story being told. There are interviews with those directly involved in and affected by the fateful incident (her family, the lead detective on her case, etc.), cinematic re-enactments of pertinent events and details (including the use of a miniature diagram of the crime scene that is incredibly simple yet quite ingenious), and screen captures of the family’s social media conversations as they search for their beloved Crystal‘s murderer (which are also re-enacted for dramatic effect).
It is the latter technique that proves most effective. These MySpace sequences play similarly to Aneesh Chaganty‘s excellent 2018 thriller, Searching, a movie that takes place entirely on various computer and phone screens. It’s a fascinating peek back at the primordial stages of social media and the manner in which it could be used for the purposes of research and investigation, even if the social platforms on display look positively ancient to our 2021 eyes. It’s also as close as Munk‘s film comes to having any sort of special sauce that distinguishes it from every other true crime doc out there already.
Nevertheless, despite the very best efforts of the people behind Why Did You Kill Me?, the film unfortunately loses a little steam on more than one occasion. I couldn’t help but feel like this particular story, while undoubtedly compelling and worthy of being told in some form or fashion, was stretched a tad thin by parlaying it into a feature-length movie. It fails to deliver the clever twists and irresistible turns present in the best examples of true crime storytelling. So while I don’t fault the filmmakers for identifying Crystal Theobald‘s passing and the events that followed as material worthy of documenting, I don’t believe the true-to-life proceedings were handled in the most fruitful way possible.
For me, the overall viewing experience was uneven, and there isn’t any new ground being broken on the crime doc front here. However, for true crime junkies looking for their next fix, Why Did You Kill Me? will do the trick.
Crime, Documentary | USA, 2021 | Netflix Originals | 14th April 2021 | Dir.Fredrick Munk