People love monsters,” says Amanda Knox, in Netflix's much-hyped account of her trial for the murder of her British roommate. “When they get the chance, they want to see them.”
The 29-year-old remains chillingly inscrutable throughout the film, adding an unnerving ambivalence to what is in many ways a straightforward revisiting of an already widely-reported case, and its lurid aftermath. You don’t know whether to sympathise with Knox or recoil from her.
True crime is having a moment, with documentaries such as Serial andThe Jinx hooking audiences with their mix of grisly reportage and courtroom melodrama. But these shows had the advantage of recounting thoroughly obscure events, so that viewers were on tenterhooks to the end. In contrast, everyone is at least passingly au fait with Knox, a all-American student convicted, with her Italian boyfriend, of killing University of Leeds undergraduate Meredith Kercher in Perugia in 2007, but finally found innocent and acquitted in March last year.
Thus directors Brian McGinn and Rod Blackhurst face the challenge of building suspense while relaying a story in which the ending is already known (Knox was exonerated after police were found to have botched crucial DNA evidence). And though the movie offers no new bombshells the filmmakers have nonetheless wrought a spare and unflinching feature that offers a fresh perspective on Knox without descending into the sensationalism that attended original coverage of the trial.
McGinn and Blackhurst have obtained some remarkable police footage. The film opens with a grisly forensics video of the still-fresh crime scene, Kercher’s leg visible beside a pool of blood. This hellish vista is in contrast to the calm front presented by Knox as she crisply asserts she was an innocent abroad stitched-up by authorities under pressure to solve a killing that had gripped the world.
Without a deep knowledge of the case it’s hard to say whether we are being manipulated – a charge laid at the producers of the earlier Netflixtrue crime smash Making a Murderer. However, the facts as set out here strongly imply that – far from getting off on a technicality – Knox was indeed wrongly accused, with the Italian justice system portrayed as simultaneously Machiavellian and blundering. In prison awaiting trial Knox was, for instance, falsely told she was HIV positive in a bid to destabilise her. When she subsequently made a list of all the people she had slept with in Italy in an attempt to ascertain who might have passed the condition on to her, the details were leaked to the press, apparently to encourage the idea that she was a sexual predator bending men to her will.
The film serves as a pointed commentary on the media's fascination with sensational crimes. “It was a particularly gruesome murder, throat slit, semi-naked, blood everywhere…what more do you want?” enthuses Nick Pisa, the former Daily Mail journalist who published Knox’s leaked prison diaries. He seems happy to embody the crassest instincts of modern journalism, likening a front page exclusive to great sex and yet suggesting he is following in the footsteps of Woodward and Bernstein. Donald Trump, popping up in archive footage to demand a boycott of Italy because of its treatment of Knox, comes off as sensitive and considered by comparison.
The documentary is ultimately less concerned with the details of the murder than with the circus that ensued and the misogynistic caricaturing of Knox as a sex-crazed “she devil’ who held her boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito spellbound. Nor are the directors especially interested in What Amanda Did Next. We see her pottering around in her home in Seattle, but learn nothing of her life today or her hopes for the future.
McGinn and Blackhurst have instead assembled an insightful procedural that functions as a meta-commentary on our obsession with true crime. Young, female, with Hollywood looks, Knox was an irresistible villain – a fallen angel whose sexual history became fodder for the media. She is unsettling on camera, dead-eyed and with the body language of someone ill at ease in their own skin. Nonetheless, this quietly provocative movie asks those who rushed to burn her on a pyre to contemplate that they were wrong.