Released last Wednesday, Murder Among the Mormons appears to be a new addition to Netflix’s cache of niche true crime documentaries, and at its surface this documentary promises to explore the well known themes of this genre- cults, the absurd, and of course - murder. It covers the topic of the 1985 Utah Bombings, a story that blends forgery, homicide and the controversial Mormon Church. Although this subject matter is undeniably unusual, the style of the series is disappointingly conventional.
The directors introduce us to everyone we expect to meet, a mix of experts, witnesses, members of the Mormon community and the police officers involved, without attempting to draw anything exceptional out of these overwhelmingly, old, white and male figures. The only notable mention is Shannon Flynn, a larger than life figure, dressed in a waistcoat with an unusual way of speaking, a Mormon who was caught at the heart of the action. Promotional tweets from Netflix have already attempted to turn him into a meme, using stills from the documentary to create reaction photos.
This series seems to call on all the hallmarks of documentary practice without adding anything new
Although Flynn is an eccentric figure, this portrayal of him feels forced against the background of an unspectacular cast, and he is just not riveting enough to carry the documentary on his back alone. These interviews are paired with a mix of archive footage and unremarkable reenactment scenes, a trope so commonly used it is difficult to make it different- and that is not achieved here.
This series seems to call on all the hallmarks of documentary practice without adding anything new, and the striking story it embarks to tell is thus muted. It is often detective work in itself to work out where on the timeline we are, or which real person is supposed to be who in the reenactment.
It might be said the series verges on propaganda
It is a documentary that divulges far too much detail about specific facts, but too little about the overall themes. Barely any time, for example, is spent on fleshed out criticism of the Mormon church, which may have added a greater complexity to the crimes committed within it.
This may be down to the co-director’s Mormon identity, and it might be said the series verges on propaganda, as the final image of the Church of Latter-day Saints is of a peaceful community left ravaged by the evil perpetrator. Elsewhere, in the final moments of the film, it is revealed the criminal mastermind at its centre may have spuriously written Emily Dickenson prose- this astounding fact is never expanded on.
Ultimately I finished this series feeling unsatisfied, finding greater clarity on the event’s Wikipedia page.