Formally known as Don't F**k With Cats: Hunting an Internet Killer, this three-part true crime documentary was released to Netflix on December 28, 2019. And less than a month after this launch, the mini- series has gained a considerable following and garnered an overwhelmingly positive response from viewers, who are stunned not only stunned by the real events that the documentary follows, but impressed by the way that director Mark Lewis strings out this sprialing mayhem of murder, intrigue, and internet sensationalism.
Fair warning: spoilers lie ahead.
The docu-series closely follows the crimes of Luka Magnotta, a disturbed Canadian youth with aspirations in the modeling world, whose obsession with attention and the cult of celebrity led him to release a number of anonymous videos where he, incognito, murderers a series of kittens. Unfortunately, this perverse pastime proves to only whet Magnotta's appetite, as he soon goes on to brutally murder, dismember, and ship out the body parts of Chinese international student Jun Lin. All while recording, and later posting, the slaughter.
The limited series largely focuses on profiling Magnotta, exploring his crimes, and excitedly chasing down the rabbit hole of this murderer's lurid cat-and-mouse game as both police and a Facebook group of online vigilantes attempt to track down and expose the killer, much to Magnotta's delight and eventual downfall. In this way, as an exploitative and shocking adventure-detective thriller, the series delivers in spades.
It's intriguing. It's shocking. It's twisted and alluring and it calls forth a sense of bitter righteousness in the viewer that is matched only by that of the internet investigators, who dedicated months of their lives towards this desperate and impressive search for a blooming serial killer.
As entertainment, as a thriller and a sensational expose into the power of indignant group motivation versus the wiles of a proud killer, this series is practically second to none.
However, where the docu-series falls short is in its attempt at creating some social message beyond this simple point.
What the series shows us is how impressive and powerful the internet can truly be as an investigative tool, how prodigious a group of outraged and intelligent individuals can be in snuffing out the violent reign of a murderer before he is able to step into his prime.
What the series tells us, pointing an accusatory finger at the audience within its last few minutes, is that we should be ashamed of ourselves for sensationalising a killer and not only encouraging him, but somehow enabling him to commit murder.
I'm sorry, but did I not just watch a three hour series wherein a murderer's crimes, backstory, and identity are made into a cinematic spectacle where he is sensationalised and held up as some sick master of mayhem?
What gives this team of creators the right to levy blame against their viewership when they themselves are far more guilty in immortalizing and sensationalizing the legacy of Magnotta? Furthermore, how is it possible that they can fall so easily into that constant rhetoric of 'the internet is bad and so are you for using it' when they've just dedicated countless hours of research, storyboarding, and editing into creating a story wherein the internet is an integral component in finding and halting Magnotta?
In the final minutes of the third episode, the series whirls around at us, performing some self-righteous heel-turn, and seems to suggest that if viewers hadn't reacted so strongly to Magnotta's videos, his recorded murderers, then perhaps Magnotta wouldn't have been so easily inclined to continue his killing spree.
I suppose that I must excuse the production team--they must've fallen behind on Mind Hunter and gotten their education on psychopathy and serial murder from a less credible source.
Suffice to say, that is not how serial killers operate. Magnotta's butchering of small animals was not some misguided experiment, after which he conspired to commit murder because the internet gave him a scrap of attention. Dismiss that idea from your mind. It's baseless and it does a grave disservice to those who helped to catch Magnotta.
Instead, consider this little theory, which is actually psychologically sound: Magnotta was always going to hurt someone. He was always going to kill. He shows classic signs of sociopathic ideation, gross narcissism, and a complete disassociation with the moral dilemma of his actions. Animal murder is a classic, telltale warning of future compulsions towards murder, and once Magnotta strangled those first two kittens, the clock was ticking until he finally found a human victim. In fact, even the documentary itself says this, which makes their final moral condemnation of the audience all the more confusion. The series' key storyteller, Deanna Thompson, asserts that her Facebook sleuth team had known this from the very beginning, and were devastated that they weren't able to find Magnotta in time to avert this first murder.
Note how I said first murder, as there is no doubt in my mind that this sick young man would have killed, and perhaps similarly dismembered, other helpless victims, had it not been for the very attention for which the series creators decide to criticize the audience in the show's closing moments.
And this glaring lack of self-awareness further frustrates me because, as aforementioned, the series as a piece of entertainment is absolutely fantastic . It's one of the most clever and engaging documentary pieces that I've had the pleasure to watch, and yet it shoots itself in the foot by misinterpreting its own social messages and ending not with a whimper, but with a wreck of overinflated, unsubstantiated social preaching.
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