Casting JonBenet (2017, Kitty Green) Review
Starring: Hannah Cagwin, Aeona Cruz, Liv Bagley
The unsolved death of six-year-old American beauty queen JonBenet Ramsey remains the world’s most sensational child murder case. Over 15 months, responses, reflections, and performances were elicited from the Ramsey’s Colorado hometown community, creating a work of art from the collective memories and mythologies the crime inspired in Green’s new documentary, Casting JonBenet.
Casting JonBenet does not play it in the conventional fashion. Kitty Green tackles the details of the case not like a detective crime episode, but on how the universe responds and reacts to such a horrible crime. It has an audition style, just people coming and going, auditioning for different roles to people who have been involved with the case, them reciting the lines and reacting to it. It acts like a study of how a myriad of people relate to and rationalize different aspects of tragedy based on their own personal experiences. It’s not merely a small-scale story of just the death of a little girl in Colorado, it’s a wide-scale phenomena; how varying forms of tragedy can affect and traumatize beings in their own distinct way. The concept on how the execution brings together different views about love, grief, sorrow, and hate perfectly blends together.
All that said and done, this documentary may feel pretty hollow at times. It sometimes feels repetitive, an experiment on actors sharing their opinions and theories of who they think murdered JonBenet. It’s strange because although this is a documentary, things still felt quite open and vague. I do know that this is an unsolved case, but I think it’s weird for me to research information about the case after watching a documentary about it. I do admire its originality; however, it would’ve been better if it included more objective facts than subjective opinions. Saying this may be ironic because it just contradicted the last paragraph on how I praised it because it doesn’t try to give answers about the case, but I would like it more if it was balanced. If it perfectly crosses the line between bias and unbiased. It just didn’t.
Casting JonBenet is still worth a watch despite it being dodgy at times. It is not more of a documentary but an opinion piece, examining how JonBenet’s death affected the public and how the case is viewed now, just over 20 years later. It never gives any clear answer, it just leaves the viewer to come up with their own conclusion about the case. In my eyes, this is not a question as to whodunnit at all, but it is about society, and how the hometown community opens up their personal and raw feelings on the matter, tying together a beautiful portrait of tragedy and sympathy.