Abducted in Plain Sight, 2017.
Directed by Skye Borgman.
Pocatello, Idaho. 1974. A young girl is sexually abused and then kidnapped by a close family friend, right in front of her parents’ eyes. Two years later, she is abducted once again, by the same man.
Nothing seems to capture the essence of the binge-watching generation quite like the true-crime documentary. From a fraudulent music festival in the Bahamas to the ambiguities surrounding a Toyota Rav4, alarming accounts of terrifying tales have come to define the years of online streaming services – an era responsible for engulfing the classic notion of ‘water cooler TV’ in a flaming tornado of untameable Twitter threads. And when it comes to the kindling fuelling such heat, the true-crime doc. crackles away contently as the most flammable of the lot.
And just when we thought the online wildfire of The Ted Bundy Tapes had simmered down to embers, Netflix’s latest addition, Abducted in Plain Sight – a 2017 feature length documentary directed and produced by American filmmaker/cinematographer Skye Borgman – has once again ignited social media in a blaze of GIF-laden debate.
Doing the festival rounds prior to its US release a couple of years ago, before being picked up by the streaming giants and dropping on the platform last month, Borgman’s film details the story of Idaho-born Jan Broberg – now an activist and actor – who, in 1974 aged 12, was kidnapped by family friend Robert Berchtold and held hostage in his motor home while he drove her to Mexico. The Broberg family, meanwhile, chose not to alert the authorities until several days following her disappearance. They eventually got her back; but, little more than two years later, Berchtold had abducted her once again.
Taking over three years to complete, Abducted in Plain Sight begins its disturbing, stranger-than-fiction descent from the off. Described, much like Bundy, as charming and affable, Berchtold’s over-interest in Jan – and the disconcerting level of access he had to her – is brought to the fore almost instantly. From there – much like its far-from-ambiguous title – the film pulls very few punches as it delves into the unnerving details, navigating through several shocking revelations to unravel the true extent of Berchtold’s commitment to fulfilling his deepest desires.
But the film is a multi-faceted affair. Coupling the conventional talking-head testimonies of those directly involved – the Brobergs; an FBI agent who worked the case; Berchtold’s own brother – with grainy, home-video style re-enactment, this is a story that combines a harrowing account of child molestation and predatory paedophilia with an equally cutting examination of manipulation, brainwashing and parental naivety. Abducted in Plain Sight has moments that will leave you aghast, others that will leave you repulsed, and others that will leave you seething with anger.
However, in its near-overbearing propensity to horrify, Borgman’s startling account of deception masks its own inability to fully explore the deeper complexities it serves up. As such, certain aspects of the story seem to be skipped over rather too thinly, leaving enough unanswered questions in plain sight to fill more than a few Twitter timelines.
Nevertheless, Borgman’s film is a bewildering, distressing, heart-breaking watch, and one that powerfully demonstrates the shattering, seismic impact of sexual abuse. If Jan Broberg’s aim is to get the world talking, then her own traumatic experience has undeniably done that. And then some.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★★★★ / Movie: ★★★★
George Nash is a freelance film journalist. Follow him on Twitter via @_Whatsthemotive for movie musings, puns and cereal chatter.