Casting JonBenet

Local actors from JonBenet Ramsey’s hometown offer multiple perspectives on her 1996 murder as they vie to play roles in a dramatization of the case.

Year: 2017
Certificate: 15
Director: Kitty Green
Starring: Kitty Green

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If you don’t know already about JonBenet Ramsey then I suggest you take a look online because you won’t really find out by watching “Casting JonBenet” – the producers seem to have decided that everyone will already know the details. According to Netflix it was “the world’s most sensational child-murder case” – I’ll be honest with you, I’d never heard of her before and that title would have gone to the James Bulger case anyway. In 1996 JonBenet Ramsey, a 6 year old beauty-pageant regular, was murdered. The case was never solved.

The ‘documentary’, and I use that term loosely, is stylised in the form of actors auditioning to play the parts of JonBenet’s parents, John and Patsy, while giving their thoughts on what happened. All the actors auditioning for these roles were from the area from around the time of the murder. What we’re not told is whether or not they were actually auditioning for a real part or if they were aware that they were just part of a documentary.

The story of what happened is never really told and the viewer is left to piece things together from what the actors think they know about the case. This is the major flaw of “Casting JonBenet”. It simply lacks facts and evidence about the case and never really aims to tell you what happened. There are times when the actors are reading from sheets of paper, words that we are led to believe were said by the parents but there is nothing to say whether these are fictional or taken from actual transcripts. After 10 minutes there had been no facts just people saying what they thought happened. After 20 minutes there were still no facts. After 50 minutes… you get the picture, right?

The aspect ratio of the film changes between 4:3 (‘square’) for the auditions and widescreen for the rest of it. The switching aspect ratio is a little annoying to begin with but it’s a useful device to separate the handful of dramatisations and the auditions. There is no narration on the film to help the viewer and no notes that come up on the screen to say if things are fiction or fact – even a card at the beginning giving the rundown on the case would have been a big improvement.

There are lots of wild accusations about how or why either of the parent’s would or could have killed their daughter. There was a part where her brother was mentioned and there was a random stranger from another country that was mentioned but without any actual detail as to why things were or weren’t pursued on any of the lines.

There is no archive footage, no narrative, no documentary evidence, no police reports, no explanation, nothing saying that the words the “actors” were reading were from police reports or made up. There were, however, lots of wild accusations with zero evidence shown to back them up – it was a bit like watching a live action version of the Daily Mail. It was 80 minutes of people saying what they thought might have happened without having to provide anything to back up those thoughts.

If you have an interest in the case then you won’t gain anything from this ‘documentary’. If you don’t have an interest in the case then you won’t really learn anything from the film either. It’s not a documentary; it’s a show that glorifies people’s opinions and nothing else. I’m not even sure I’d class it as entertainment. You have no idea what is fact and what is fiction and, to me, that’s not a great outcome for a documentary.

Have you seen this documentary? Let us know your opinions in the comments below and of course if there are any films on Netflix UK you want us to review let us know!

About MaFt

Film and TV fan, creator of New On Netflix (UK, USA, Australia and Canada), dad of two amazing children, code geek and passionate about autism.

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