Duration: 80 minutes
Casting JonBenet is a fascinating meta-analysis of the monstrous unsolved murder of 6-year old JonBenet Ramsey in Boulder, Colorado, 1996. Rather than taking the usual route of trying to find out who murdered JonBenet, the film explores the cultural and psychological significance of the story.
Director Kitty Green does this through the interesting device of casting actors for the roles of Patsy, John (her parents) and Burke Ramsey (brother), and others who were involved in the case, in a fictional feature film about the killing: each of the actors is interviewed about their reasons for seeking the role, what they think happened that terrible Christmas evening and perform dramatic scenes in character – or at least what they perceive the character to be.
The ongoing mystery of what happened to JonBenet has permitted all kinds of wild theories to leap in to fill the void. Some of the actors interviewed in Casting Jon-Benet come to startling conclusions, often informed by their own experiences of tragedy and misfortune.
Despite never having met any of the Ramseys personally, the actors have very fixed ideas about who JonBenet’s family were and how they might have felt and behaved on the day she was murdered. Perceptions of Patsy and John vary starkly: some are convinced of their involvement in the crime and play that suspicion accordingly, others perform very sympathetic interpretations.
This is a highly creative approach to documentary film-making. Netflix has so far established a good track record in this regard. Amanda Knox, co-produced by Netflix in 2016, took a similarly philosophical approach to a world-infamous crime that was executed beautifully.
The final sequence of Casting JonBenet is one of the most original and arresting pieces of cinema I have seen. Its surreal poetry is certainly on par with the masterful narrative crafting of Werner Herzog.