From just the title alone, the new Netflix documentary “Abducted in Plain Sight” has many true-crime fans eager to spend the night in with a bowl of popcorn while absorbing another story crazy enough to have earned its own movie deal. Unfortunately, this documentary will leave you too flabbergasted to indulge in any snacks during the film’s hour and 31 minute run.
The documentary follows the Brobergs, a young family living in Idaho in the 1970s, and their interactions with their close family-friend and sociopathic neighbor, Robert “B” Berchtold, who kidnaps the Broberg’s 12-year-old daughter. Twice.
Now you, much like me, are probably wondering how anyone could be kidnapped twice by the same person? Did they not get sent to jail the first time? How could anyone manage to let their child be kidnapped twice? Answering these questions is where Skye Borgman’s directorial skills shine. Unlike other true-crime docu-series like Netflix’s “Making a Murderer” or “The Keepers,” Borgman only has an hour and a half to weave a tangled web of blackmail, manipulation and deceit. However, she uses her time wisely, managing to give the viewer a glimpse into the Brobergs’ life and illustrate just how gullible people, especially parents, can be.
The film starts off simply enough, introducing each member of the Broberg family separately, along with Berchtold’s wife and brother. Once introductions are over, however, the film loses all sense of normalcy. Within the first five minutes the story begins to unfold by describing the intimate relationships that Berchtold had with not only Jan, but with both of her parents as well, as he seduced both of them in order to have leverage in his conquest for their daughter.
Both of the parents paint Berchtold as an extremely charismatic gentleman, appealing to the viewer’s sympathy for the family. After all, before Berchtold kidnapped Jan how could they know what kind of person he was?
But then “B” kidnaps Jan and her parents don’t seem worried. In fact, they are so unbothered by her disappearance that they don’t call the FBI for five days. At this point, any sympathy I had for the Brobergs went completely out the window. Sure, it’s one thing to be blinded by a magnetic personality like Berchtold’s, but it is another to completely neglect your child when they are in need.
From here the movie’s shock value becomes its strength, keeping the viewer continuously pressing pause in order to process what is going on. For example, before Jan’s second abduction, her parents allow her to go and visit Berchtold in another state, alone, at the water park that he now owns and operates. This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the questionable and blatantly poor decisions that the Brobergs make throughout the movie, and lead you to realize that, while being abducted twice sounds absurd, their parenting allowed it to happen.
It is difficult to put into words the actual levels of shock, disbelief and exasperation that I felt watching this film, which is probably what Borgman envisioned when creating it. Even so, rather than being left only with feelings of anger toward the Brobergs for allowing Jan’s kidnappings to occur, the viewer is instead reminded of the naivety of people and the power of manipulation. Regardless of the viewer’s feelings toward the Brobergs by the end, the film was so unsettling, even for true crime documentaries, it might just be something you have to see to believe.
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Emma Hungaski is the associate opinion editor for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.