American Murder: The Family Next Door. The Watts family in American Murder: The Family Next Door. Cr. Shanann Watts/2020

Netflix’s American Murder: The Family Next Door leaves horrified viewers sobbing over Shan’ann Watts’ fate

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American Murder: The Family Next Door – streaming now on Netflix – has left many viewers in tears, with one branding the true crime documentary “one of the most tragic and emotionally painful things I’ve watched in a long time.”

From the outside, they looked like the perfect family.

Behind closed doors, though, the reality was very different: Christopher Watts was having an affair – something which his pregnant wife, Shan’ann, suspected herself, even going so far as to confide in friends that she knew something was wrong.

And so, when Shan’ann missed an OB-GYN appointment and failed to show up to work, her friend Nickole Atkinson was quick to raise her concerns with local police.

Police soon gained entry to the Watts family home, where they learned that Shan’ann and her two daughters, four-year-old Bella and three-year-old Celeste, were missing. 

Her phone, handbag and wedding ring, however, were all still in the house, which prompted them to question her husband.

While Christopher initially maintained his innocence and cooperated with the investigation, key evidence led to his arrest on 15 August.

Months later, in November, 2018, he pleaded guilty to murdering his family and then disposing of the bodies in an industrial oil field near their suburban home.

Watch the trailer for Netflix’s American Murder: The Family Next Door below.

While the case has been sensationalised in countless TV specials and true crime documentaries, Netflix’s film – which was authorised by the victims’ families – chooses to take a different approach.

Promising to be “the first film to give a voice to his victims”, American Murder: The Family Next Door eschews the traditional true crime format and instead constructs its narrative entirely out of archival footage.

Contrasting Shan’ann’s upbeat social media updates with the concerned texts she sent to her husband and friends, it creates a truly haunting look at the family’s life behind closed doors.

And this intimate footage, shown alongside police body camera footage and polygraph surveillance video of Christopher’s confession, has certainly struck a chord with viewers watching at home.

“I stayed up just to watch the #AmericanMurderTheFamilyNextDoor on Netflix and I already am crying after just watching the family home videos,” said one via Twitter.

“Five minutes in and #AmericanMurder on Netflix is already TERRIFYING,” another commented.

And still one more tweeted: “#americanmurder is the hardest thing I’ve ever watched. Feel physically sick.”

Elsewhere, another said: “The scariest part of it all and the very first red flag was the utter and complete lack of empathy. In his face. In his eyes. In the entire manner. Not just about the murder. Those short microexpressions when he interacted with his kids, other people.”

“#AmericanMurder terrifies me, how can someone act completely normal for years but really be the biggest psychopath on earth!! You actually never know,” said another.

Perhaps the most striking response to the film, though, was this one, which reads: “Shan’ann and her children were murdered because she wanted a loving, present, and available husband. 

“That’s all she wanted.”

American Murder: The Family Next Door is now streaming on Netflix.

To learn more about the warning signs of domestic abuse, visit Refuge now.

You can also contact the 24-hour National Domestic Violence Freephone Helpline on 0808 2000 247.

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Images: Netflix

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Kayleigh Dray

Kayleigh Dray is Stylist’s digital editor-at-large. Her specialist topics include comic books, films, TV and feminism. On a weekend, you can usually find her drinking copious amounts of tea and playing boardgames with her friends.

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