A true crime documentary… close to home
by Rory Buccheri
Being one of my ultimate binge-watching dirty pleasures, I have always wondered what people find thrilling about watching true crime.
Does the presence of so much death make you enjoy the feeling of being alive? Is the sheer amount of con-artistry and deception featured supposed to train you to recognise tricky situations?
I guess I will never know, but I will keep conjecturing. And, of course, I will be watching a lot more for the sake of finding an answer.
Recently I turned another page on serial killer documentaries, and picked a mini-series recently released by Netflix that fits all my criteria: Worst Roommate Ever (2022).
From the friendly next door neighbour trope to a riveting and unexpected story of international fraud, this series was varied in content and surprisingly addictive.
In fact, what struck me the most about the series was the addition of different layers of ‘disturbing’ content, at times detaching from what we’d usually expect to be morally black or white. Instead, it was often more of a grey area.
The double-episode finale is the perfect example of that. The show, starting with the story of an innocent-looking granny turned serial killer to make some cash, eventually went deep into a commentary of the financially broken heart of America.
One of my favourite episodes was the season finale featuring the serial squatter Jamison Bachman.
Bachman, a skilled lawyer turned rogue, knew leasing contracts to perfection, and used his cunning and knowledge to get away with occupying and taking over flats for indefinite periods of time.
His story was far from being all about the con: it was a heart-breaking tale of how trauma disrupts the lives of promising people.
Even if this man’s violent side was utterly reproachful, the circumstances surrounding him were worth reflecting on. As I watched story after story of women being bullied into living with Bachman, as he refused to pay rent and ruined their lives, I wondered if the current housing situation had something to do with it. I cannot help but thinking that the criminal behaviour of this man, at some point of his life, might have been motivated by survival.
my favourite screengrab from the show.
Mind you, I am not trying to justify any of his violent actions that had a disastrous impact on many lives. I am, however, willing to testify that in a world in which often 70% of personal revenues go into rent, it is easy to call someone a criminal for not being able to pay up. Whether this is the case for Bachman, I leave it to the jury to decide.
In any case, Worst Roommate Ever had other similar moments of intrigue that make it worth watching.
The first episode, featuring Dorothea Puentes, a granny turned serial killer, is a classic serial killer narrative executed to perfection by the makers of the documentary.
Similarly, the episode featuring international fraudster Youssef Khater was spine-chilling, and definitely one of those things that make you say “from tomorrow onwards, I am not trusting anyone ever again.”
While some episodes are almost worth skipping (looking at you, episode two), the overall verdict I’d give to this mini-series is a positive one.
Sure, it still relies on a bunch of characteristic tropes of true crime documentaries, including but not limited to: dramatic music, unnecessary pauses and copious crying, and negative photography juxtapositions just for fun. (My favourite one you will find featured in this very article – I couldn’t have made this up.)
Upon finishing the series, I keep wondering what it is about us humans that makes us seek these horrific stories and bring them so close to home.
This mini-series in particular promises an effect of “this could have happened to me” that is way more relatable than, say, a documentary about 1970s New York killings.
In a way, there is a sense that most of the situations featured could happen to us anytime – which adds another layer to my initial inquiry: why the heck are we into this? I guess I will never know. In the meantime, I will keep watching true crime documentaries looking for an answer.