At the end of David Fincher’s “Zodiac”, we remember leaving the theaters with a distinct feeling of dread. A film based on the real-life events of an enigmatic killer who left a trail of murder and carnage. After enduring nearly 3 hours of chilling twists and turns, the film ends on an eeriely ambigous note. In spite of the case being solved, there were lingering questions. The kind that made you question what humanity was capable of. Few films in our lifetime have invoked such feelings of fear and terror within the human condition. Documentaries, rarer still. Netflix’s “The Sons of Sam: A Descent into Darkness” just so happens to be one of them.
We’re no stranger when it comes to crime documentaries and strange cases. In spite of the exploitative nature of framing very real deaths for entertainment sake, we can’t get enough! From spooky hotels to creepy catfishers, our hunger for the morbid and macabre is insatiable. So when we first saw “Sons of Sam”, a documentary telling the story of a Satanic murderer who hunts women on the dirty streets of New York, we knew we had to get on it.
This documentary miniseries tracks mainly three narratives here. The first is the story of the public responding to the sudden wave of random murders in New York city in the 1970s. The city is in a panic. The police are at their wits’ end as the killer taunts them. The media is busy capitalising of the many, disturbing letters sent by the Son of Sam. Women are afraid to walk the streets. The second is a picture into the mind of the apparent lone killer, David Berkowitz. As we go deeper and deeper into the man behind the myth, we soon realize the horrifying truth behind it all. The killer was not acting alone.
Then, there’s the story of Maury Terry, an investigative journalist on the hunt for the Son of Sam. A man determined to sift through the rumours and tabloids to find the truth. All these stories meld together to give us, the viewers, a bigger picture into this strange and disturbing story of murder, sexual violence and Satanic cults. Beyond that, we dare not give anymore details.
Believe us when we say that “Sons of Sam” was a proper thrill-ride from start to finish. So many times do these crime documentaries become this boring patchwork of disjointed footage montages and talking-head interviews. “Sons of Sam” is honestly one of the most cinematic documentaries we’ve seen in a very long time. The whole things play out like a detective film you’d see on screen. The documentary never has to rely on violins stings or dramatic editing to make its source material engaging. It simply allows the evidence to tell the story and boy is it one for the books!
The moment the narrator read the first letter from the Son of Sam killer, we were immediately enthralled by the rest of the documentary series. From there, the series proceeds to ramp up the tension with the rest of the episodes slowly deconstructing the case.
The firsthand accounts of Berkowitz and his letters were beyond insanity. The man had claimed that he was influenced by a 6000 year-old demon, who possessed his neighbour’s dog, to go out and murder women. Then we learn that he was involved in a cult and how he wasn’t the only one involved. There’s also an abusive, horrible man named Sam who contributed to the myth behind the Son of Sam. There is an air of mystery and nagging uncertainty about the whole case. The sheer madness of it all threatens to overwhelm us.
Sometimes though, the weird isn’t enough. It has to be structured in a way in which everything feels connected and relevant. There’s a tendency in Netflix documentaries to stretch themselves too thin by asking everyone and their grandmother what they thought of the case. Yet at the same time, you can’t just dump all this info on the audience and expect them to figure it out without perspective. Thankfully, fimmaker and documentarian Joshua Zeman finds a brilliant solution to this dilemma in the art of storytelling. Simply put every villain needs a heroic foil. In this case it’s Maury Terry.
In spite of the fact that Maury is dead, Zeman uses interviews from his colleagues and loved ones alongside footage to create a character before our very eyes. One that feels as real and relatable as if he were still alive. In many ways, he’s meant to be framed as the documentary’s version of Jake Gyllenhaal’s Robert Graysmith. A man consumed by the mystery, desperate to find the truth. He’s not just a conduit for the audience to process the disturbing details. Rather, he serves as a pivotal piece to solving this entire case. He is both narrator and player throughout this whole drama.
Netflix’s “The Sons of Sam: A Descent into Darkness” is the gold standard when it comes to gritty, creepy crime documentaries. Through expert filmmaking and masterful editing, Joshua Zeman manages to create a palpable sensation of terror and dread in the here and now from murders long past. By the end of the whole affair, you’ll be left satisfied, if not mentally scarred. You can now catch “The Sons of Sam: A Descent into Darkness” on Netflix today!
So what’s your favourite creepy true-crime case? Are there any ones you’re dying to have us check out and review? Be sure let us know in the comments down below!
Netflix's "Sons of Sam: A Descent into Darkness" Review
Netflix's "Sons of Sam: A Descent into Darkness" is the gold standard when it comes to gritty, creepy crime documentaries. Through expert filmmaking and masterful editing, Joshua Zeman manages to create a palpable sensation of terror and dread in the here and now from murders long past. By the end of the whole affair, you'll be left satisfied, if not mentally scarred.
- Netflix's "Son of Sams: A Descent into Darkness" Review