A Compelling, Thrilling Documentary That Flips The True Crime Script [SXSW 2023]
While the tragedy that birthed the podcast is horrible, the movie also has a darkly funny sense of humor. A lot of it comes from the subject, Emily Nestor herself, who acts like a mockumentary protagonist more than the Clarice Sterling detective she pictures herself as. Nestor is engrossing and hilarious, but she is also somehow both self-aware and oblivious to what she is doing. She asks herself important questions like whether it’s fine to advertise on a podcast about a tragedy, and then struggles to come up with answers. Likewise, she doesn’t seem to see a problem with her absolute lack of journalistic experience.
This is the crux of “Citizen Sleuth,” as it explores how these tragedies affect the people who make true crime, and in turn how they impact the subjects of their documentaries. At its best, the film interrogates the ripple effects Nestor’s work has on herself, on the victim’s family, and on the suspects.
To the credit of the documentary, it doesn’t set out to just mock Nestor’s efforts or her podcast, nor does it follow it as completely true and valid. Instead, it shows why people would find Emily entertaining and the story thrilling (like the genre at large) before warning of the perils of the format. Like many podcasts and shows, Emily sees hers as a social crusade and a chance to get justice, but the film shows why that is a foolish and dangerous endeavor that quickly spirals out of control.
“Citizen Sleuth” is a rare documentary that actually has a full character arc, particularly one that happens organically throughout the course of the film. We see the rise and fall of Emily Nestor, and her growth through the process of investigating a death. It is as fascinating to watch as the true crime shows that inspired Nestor.
/Film Rating: 7 out of 10