I like to think of ‘Evil Genius’ as Making A Murderer-lite, in that you don’t need a vacation after only one episode. This four-part miniseries drops itself in amongst the sea of pseudo-cinematic documentaries that have popularised on Netflix, with an intriguingly simple crime that grows into an evermore engaging and complex mystery.
As generic as that sounds, I write this under the assumption that you’re unfamiliar with the true story of Brian Wells, an innocuous (or is he?!) pizza delivery driver who was strapped with a bomb and forced to rob a bank back in 2003, only for the perpetrators to escape until new theories and evidence emerge during the five years that follow. A quick Google search will immediately give away the events that unfold no thanks to Brian Wells’ Wikipedia page title, so naturally, I discourage anyone wanting a “WTF, no way, that’s crazy!” experience from going any further than the synopsis.
I mean, when I think about it, I would describe it less like ‘Making A Murderer’ and more like ‘Fargo’, where different events intercept and different parties have conflicting perspectives on the matter, resulting in isolated circumstances that ultimately influence our understanding of what actually happened in Erie, Pennsylvania fifteen years ago. It’s not just the new interpretations that make for shocking and unpredictable revelations such as connection seemingly irrelevant people to the investigation or discovering an even more haunting crime, it’s just how profoundly human the story is.
I feel using the word “conspiracy” is slightly misplaced here. Sure, by it’s definition, we have conspirators devising a secret plan that’s unlawful and harmful, but in the context of documentaries, the “reasoning” or I guess in the eyes of certain individuals, “justification”, is purely inconsequential. Again, without going into spoilers, none of the parties involved have any clear valid picture of “why” these events happened. You’ll leave the series feeling somewhat uncertain if there was any point to it, which ultimately speaks of many crimes and the rather spontaneous and incidental nature of life. Things happen and as ‘South Park’ once said (there’s a geographical reference in there somewhere), some people just want to see the world burn.
I can understand feeling cheated by the lack of clarity or explanation, but the overriding ambiguity of the documentary is part of the reality. We will never know if such-and-such were actually involved because they just died. We’ve never know the intent of the robbery because there are too many conflicting events and theories. And we’ll never fully understand the dangerous extent some people will go to because taking someone’s word for it doesn’t constitute as the truth. I suppose it helps that there’s a seedy untrustworthy tone to the documentary when logic is applied to certain people introduced in the investigation, changing your initial outlook on various events.
If there is one crux I have with the series, it’s the presentation of a particular individual known as Marjorie Diehl-Armstrong. From the start, it will paint her as a monster (which I won’t dispute), but the filmmakers seem to place more weight on her than what is proportional to other individuals involved. Her involvement is significant and critical for obvious reasons, but the show needs a villain for the audience to side against, but at the cost of reducing the insidiousness of others. Maybe it’s the filmmakers’ fascination with her delusional psyche, but I personally felt less compelled by her and more so on another suspect. I guess that’s in part due to the shows rapid pacing leading to a sense of abruptness where more information was clearly extracted or even abandoned from the overarching narrative for time constraints.
In closing, don’t let the “Genius” part fool you, it’s partially ironic as the investigation will show. There’s a sensationalism to the presentation that reduces the overall sincerity I think the filmmakers actually have for the case, but that doesn’t diminish the harrowing narrative that follows. It comes to a disorganised conclusion (or lack thereof), but the journey considers the morals, emotions and challenging circumstances to make for a light, accessible binge (it’s just over three hours if you’re that kind of person) that’ll make you realise how tasteless that ’30 Minutes Or Less’ movie was back in 2011.
Rating – 7/10
Question: What is your favourite Netflix documentary?
(Leave your answers in the comments section below!)
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