It’s all in the that loaded title. The moment that you hear about a movie called “Casting JonBenet” you’re immediately enthralled. It is such a controversial subject, especially with competing versions of posthumous investigations
Australian documentary filmmaker Kitty Green delivers an amazing insight into this tale that forms both an affirmation for the public’s enduring fascination but organically mutates into a more fascinating subject than the tragic death of a this youthful beauty queen; the way that people surrounding this tale project themselves into this scenario in every way possible.
“Casting JonBenet” most definitely shares an ethos with Joshua Oppenheimer’s “The Act of Killing.” The subjects of “The Act of Killing” had strong recollections of their deeds and their glory. When they’re asked to recreate them for the screen that begins to ask a question in the participants minds; ‘is this right?’ On reflection it’s not quite as it seems. It’s only in the recasting of those in charge as the victims of the crime that “The Act of Killing” begins to take a transcendent turn, we watch the previously, unabashedly horrendous Anwar Congo begin to shudder like his psyche is in the the middle of the psychological earth quake.
In contrast “Casting JonBenet” is by definition placing this group of potential cast members in roles that reaffirm, and in fact somewhat heighten, their prejudices. Especially in the wake of the controversial television series that uses a collective of criminal investigation minds to propose a theory about what ‘really’ happened that doesn’t feel like it germinates from the different participants impressions of JonBenet’s parents.
Kitty Green’s incredible feat of orchestration is that it seems that whatever design and intent that she’d conceived of prior to assembling the film, the people involved feel like they’re giving the film its momentum and direction. As we’re listening to the mad, infuriating, weird and downright tragic confessionals of the people who are wanting to inhabit the skin of these real-life characters, Green and her editor Davis Coombe make a point to intercut their scenes and portrayals of the characters tainted and crafted by their individual bias. We hear about parents who helped their children cover up crimes because the act was morally just, even if illegal. We hear about men that respected and fantasised about being like John Ramsay and attaining his level of success. We hear from a variety of women who give impressions that the mother potentially swelling with a jealous chemical reaction that she killed her own increasingly successful daughter. There’s also alternative - and much more palatable - perspectives that the very idea that jealousy of a daughter or an impending 40th birthday is ludicrous for murder motives.
The plausibility of recent revelations absolutely haunts the film. In the brief glances to the most recent hypothesis, sting they’re surrounded by conflicting threads of hypothesis after hypothesis. “Casting JonBenet” barely allows the audience to see that casting and screen tests. Green acknowledges the power and perversion of the act. In a handful of scenes, seeing these innocent young girls participate in the the variety of heinous potential ways that JonBenet dies is inherently heinous.
As you’re leading toward the climax of “Casting JonBenet” you’re left grappling with the how the filmmakers are going to execute a finale that has expanded exponentially with each strange cast members’ ingredients. Kitty Green’s finale is displayed with such a poetry and in the only way that the film ties and reinforces its purpose.
Check it out now on Netflix.
Blake Howard is a writer, a podcaster, the editor-in-chief & co-founder of Australian film blog Graffiti With Punctuation. Beginning his criticism APPRENTICESHIP as co-host of That Movie Show 2UE, Blake is now a member of the prestigious Online Film Critic Society, sways the Tomato Meter with Rotten Tomatoes approved reviews. See his articulated words and shrieks (mostly) here at Graffitiwithpunctuation.com and with DarkHorizons.com & 2SER Sydney weekly on Gaggle of Geeks.