One of the things that makes me distinctly uncomfortable about true crime documentaries is that they often feel exploitative in a 'let's laugh at the weirdos' kind of way. And it seems like a new Netflix doc, Last Stop Larrimah, could be in danger of falling into that trap.
The documentary, which Decider calls "a character study of, and love letter to, Australians who live on the fringe" is causing much amusement on social media and the crime at the centre of the show, the disappearance of a 70-year-old man and his dog in 2017, appears to be coming second place to comedy.
Rolling Stone describes the film, which first screened on HBO, as a "wild and whacky" documentary in which a man goes missing and "damn near everyone has a motive", a show of "rib-tickling misanthropy that plays like a Down Under take on a Coen Brothers fable".
While "murder, of course, is no laughing matter", the publication says that director Thomas Tancred's approach "is to play the material for deadpan gallows humor". It adds: "You could argue that the film-makers are making fun of Larrimah, but such a task doesn't require much more trouble than turning the camera on."
Is Last Stop Larrimah insensitive?
The New York Times certainly thinks so. "The movie resembles reality shows that string together insinuations and trash-talk without knowing when to quit," Nicolas Rapold writes. Meanwhile, IndieWire suggests that while the film-makers' intention wasn't exploitative "the local color on display [and what feels like] a one-hour-worthy film stretched to what feels like series length" was a "stab toward sparking a viral phenomenon such as Tiger King".
To be fair, plenty of other reviewers thought it was great. RogerEbert.com said it's "a funny little documentary" and while it's repetitive and has "very few cogent themes" it's "a cozy true-crime night in".
Screen Daily reckoned that the film was overlong but "decidedly entertaining", while Mashable says that "far from exploitative, this documentary is illuminating, digging deeper than the cheeky news reports about pies and missing persons... Tancred recognizes their showmanship and charming eccentricities, but also that these are people who have experienced a jolting loss."
And that's the problem for me too. I don't want to watch a show about pain that plays any of it for laughs, no matter how odd or eccentric the people involved may be so it's probably safe to say that this won't be joining our roundup of the best true crime shows on Netflix. Mashable says that the film "balances a macabre sense of entertainment with a poignant sting of loss" and includes a section where a (real) news reporter chuckles "about homicide and alleged cannibalism". If that were a Coen Brothers movie I'd be all over it, but the fact that there's a real missing and presumed dead person here means I'll give this one a pass.
Last Stop Larrimah is streaming on Netflix now.
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Writer, broadcaster, musician and kitchen gadget obsessive Carrie Marshall (Twitter) has been writing about tech since 1998, contributing sage advice and odd opinions to all kinds of magazines and websites as well as writing more than a dozen books. Her memoir, Carrie Kills A Man, is on sale now. She is the singer in Glaswegian rock band HAVR.