Ah, Netflix. Your one-stop shop for all things true crime. At this point, the streaming service seems hellbent on curating every novel murder case, serial killer story or white collar heist under the sun. We’ll admit that we have partook in the spectacle from time to time. We even found some morbid delight in documentaries such as the likes of “Crime Scene: The Vanishing At The Cecil Hotel”, “Dont F**k With Cats” and “Tiger King”. Are these documentaries a tad sensationalist, if not downright exploitative? Sure but there was always enough substance to justify the theatrics and madness.
So now we come to yet another entry in Netflix’s museum of the strange and macabre. Does “Why Did You Kill Me?” measure to the shock and awe of some of its more popular cousins? Well, let’s find out.
The premise of the documentary sounds like something right out of the plot of some B-grade crime thriller film. On one tragic night in 2006, 24-year old Crystal Theobald was shot in the head by a Latino gang member during a drive out with her boyfriend. For the longest time, the authorities were unable to identify the perpetrator or any other member affiliated with the 5150 gang.
Crystal’s mother, Belinda Lane, refused to give up on justice for her daughter. Together with her niece Jamie, Belinda uses MySpace to track down her daughter’s killer. Setting up a fake account using her daughter’s photo as a way to bait gang members into revealing the details of the murder. By hook or by crook, she will make them pay for her daughter’s murder.
It’s important to temper your expectations upon entering into “Why Did You Kill Me?”. If you’re the kind of person looking for the gory details and nothing else, then this won’t be your cup of tea. This documentary of a little over an hour and twenty minutes doesn’t attempt to play up the grizzly details of the shooting. Nor does it place any particular emphasis on the power of social media as a weapon for criminal justice. The narrative of the documentary is locked squarely on one thing: the fallout and tragedy of Crystal’s death.
It’s more melancholic than it is blood-chilling or shocking. Through a single death, we see how so many lives are broken in the wake of it. It begins with Belinda and her family grieving the loss of Crystal. Then, it goes into Lane’s family history of drug abuse, crime and pain. From there, we learn about the various members of the Latino gang that were caught up in her murder. William Sotelo, or “Jokes”, who falls in love with Belinda’s catfish account “Angel” and how he inadvertently gives damning evidence to the crime. The Lemus brothers who are forced to choose between their lives or their adopted gang family. Even the murderer himself gets a solid few minutes of backstory to establish empathy.
The real star of the entire documentary, though, is the mother Belinda Lane. This lady is straight-up fearless and wild. We follow her, as her quest to avenge Crystal becomes more hateful and destructive. During the early 2000s, social media was still in its infancy. The concept of “catfishing” wasn’t really something people were aware of, and she used her power of anonymity to devastating effect.
She’d gather information on various gang members online and then send immigration officers after them. She’d instigate gang-wars in a wrathful bid to kill the perpetrator by chance. This lady even put out a hit on anyone who was driving a white Ford Expedition! Ultimately, the documentary is about Belinda finding closure and peace with her daughter’s death. Whenever, it leaned into her perspective, we were thoroughly engaged. She’s a pretty colourful character with a checkered past.
While the details of the case and the portrait into Belinda Lane are riveting in their own right, there simply isn’t enough of it to fully justify the runtime. This would explain the reason behind the documentary’s need to branch out into various segments exploring the Lane family and the 5150 gang. Some of them do play a role in piecing together the puzzle of her murder. Others, however, feel loosely relevant at best and utterly pointless at worst. This whole case could have been easily summed on an episode of CBS’ “60 Minutes”.
Then there’s the issue of the manner in which the narrative and facts are presented. There isn’t a ton of footage focusing on the night of the murder. Therefore, “Why Did You Kill Me?” primarily uses interrogation videos, talking heads interviews and static conversations on MySpace to convey the plot. None of them feel like they belong in a glossy, high-budget Netflix documentary.
A prime example of taking dry facts and transforming them into a cohesive and engaging investigation would be “Operation Varsity Blues”. We would have loved to have seen some sleek visuals and charts depicting the trajectory of the bullet, the timeline of events or even the possible suspects. Instead, we have to settle for long talking heads exposition and a lackluster figurine model illustration.
Netflix’s “Why Did You Kill Me?” is more suited to being a brief segment on Vice News or Vox than it does on a high-end streaming service. The novelty of an avenging mother on social media can only carry it so far. Alas, it is more anecdotal than it is informative or entertaining for that matter. If you’re having trouble falling asleep and are looking for a curious little watch before bed, we recommend watching it small chunks. Those hungry for real-life stories of murder and madness will definitely need to look elsewhere.
You can now catch “Why Did You Kill Me?” on Netflix today! What do you think of Netflix’s latest true crime documentary? Should social media be weaponised as a tool to track down criminals? Be sure to let us know in the comments!
Netflix's "Why Did You Kill Me?" Review
Netflix’s “Why Did You Kill Me?” is more suited to being a brief segment on Vice News or Vox than it does on a high-end streaming service. The novelty of an avenging mother on social media can only carry it so far. Alas, it is more anecdotal than it is informative or entertaining for that matter.
- Netflix's "Why Did You Kill Me?" Review