Abducted in Plain Sight is the kind of documentary that will have you yelling “What the fuck?” at the screen again and again.
Like another recent Netflix true-crime doc, Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes, the film uncovers a sprawling web of lies spun by a master manipulator.
In the early 1970s, a charming man named Robert Berchtold entered the lives of the Brobergs, a friendly Mormon family in Pocatello, Idaho. He quickly transcended the role of neighbor and turned into a second father, especially to the middle daughter, Jan. The 12-year-old’s eventual abduction shouldn’t have come as a surprise to her parents. The red flags were right in front of them. Blinded by Berchtold’s warmth, they didn’t bat an eye as the 40-year-old man fixated on their daughter and spent several nights sleeping in her bed.
Perhaps you can blame the innocence of the era. In one interview, an FBI agent admits to being ignorant of the term “pedophile” at the time. “All I ever heard about was ‘stranger danger,’ ” he says.
The parents’ naiveté played a large role in Jan’s abduction, but what’s more frustrating is how close they remained to Berchtold afterward. You’ll gasp when you discover the spell he cast on Jan’s mother. And when he takes their girl from them yet again, you’ll shake your fist in anger. They fall prey to his manipulation over and over, but to some degree, you can see why they would initially have trouble seeing the monster behind the man.
The film emerges as a sobering reminder that evil lurks on every street corner. Rather than taking a sensationalist approach, director Skye Borgman maintains a deliberate pace and allows every disturbing detail to unravel slowly, often through the quivering voices of the Brobergs. Despite its dark subject matter, the film ultimately radiates with humanity as it takes on the quality of a cathartic family therapy session.
It’s tempting to spill this film’s secrets. It takes so many ferociously bizarre and infuriating turns that you’ll want to list them all on Facebook and ask your friends if you’re taking crazy pills. Watching this with my mom and girlfriend was morbidly fascinating and oddly entertaining. My mom had seen it before, so every time we expressed shock, she said, “Wait until you see the crazy shit coming up next.” Like the Brobergs, we were nervously chuckling at the absurdity one minute and crying the next. Fortunately they rose from the wreckage of their family crisis, and they speak about it with a certain relief.
Abducted in Plain Sight creates the perfect Netflix experience. It’s the kind of thriller you can curl up with on a cold, cloudy afternoon. Watch it with a loved one so you can have someone to turn to in disbelief. This film will make you even more grateful for them.
Other WTF Documentaries on Netflix
Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes: It’s particularly unsettling to watch the infamous serial killer act as his own lawyer and relive his murders while questioning key witnesses.
Evil Genius: The True Story of America’s Most Diabolical Bank Heist: A pizza delivery man calmly robs a bank with a bomb clamped around his neck. And that’s just the beginning. Twists and turns abound.
Dark Tourist: Join New Zealand journalist David Farrier as he visits eerie locales across the world, from Japan’s suicide forest to Jeffrey Dahmer’s stomping grounds. His most WTF stop is a visit to McKamey Manor, an extreme haunt where people flock to be tortured Saw-style. (The waiting list is in the thousands.)
Blackfish: An older one from 2013 but still worth adding to your queue. This film tells the tale of Tilikum, an orca involved in the deaths of three people at SeaWorld. As it explores the effects of captivity, Blackfish plays out like a gritty prison drama.