The Reel Review


In November 2018, Chris Watts pled guilty to the murders of his pregnant wife Shanann Watts and their two young daughters Bella and Celeste, three months after they went missing from their home in Frederick, Colorado.  This deeply disturbing Netflix original documentary looks at the killings, the family dynamics, and his shocking motive.

Chris and Shanann Watts and their two daughters Bella (standing) and Celeste (seated).

Director Jenny Popplewell takes an unconventional approach to the film, foregoing interviews and instead incorporating Shannon’s vast social media content, text message conversations, news footage and police interviews with Chris to tell the story, not only of the horrific killings, but of the family’s life together beforehand. The result is a gripping documentary that is exceptionally well done and intensely personal, but also incredibly gut wrenching and hard to watch.

Chris Watts and short-lived girlfriend Nichol Kessinger, who contacted investigators after learning of the family’s disappearance, telling them Chris had lied to her about having already left his wife.

One of the most fascinating parts of the film is how investigators got Chris to confess after he failed his polygraph test. For fans of procedural investigative documentaries, it is a must see. At a time when we are inundated with true crime dramas, there are two factors that make this particular true crime documentary so horrifying – seeing an emotionally detached Chris talking with police just hours after he had killed his family, and the sweet ordinariness of the victims – an unsettling reminder that sociopathic horror can lurk behind the façade of even the happiest looking family.


• Chris Watts is serving multiple life sentences at Dodge Correctional Institution, a maximum security prison in Waupun, Wisconsin.

• Nichol Kessinger, who briefly dated Chris for a month before the killings, has not spoken out in public since an interview with The Denver Post in November 2018. It is believed that she moved out of state to protect her privacy.

• Experts say crimes of family annihilation typically occur in August, prior to the start of the school year, and fall into three categories: the killer, nearly always male, is typically either 1) psychotic, 2) under financial stress or 3) trying to escape a family life he can no longer tolerate.

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