Netflix's twisty new crime documentary looks absolutely gripping in its first trailer

American Nightmare
(Image credit: Netflix)

The press called it the "Gone Girl case", comparing it to the gripping thriller about (spoiler alert for the movie!) a woman who fakes her own disappearance. But the story of Aaron Quinn and Denise Huskins wasn't fiction, they said: they claimed to have suffered a home invasion after which Huskins was kidnapped, taken hundreds of miles away and then suddenly released.

The police didn't believe a word of it.

As far as law enforcement were concerned, the story the couple told was too far-fetched and had too many holes to be believable – so rather than look for the home invaders, they instead decided that Quinn and Huskins were the prime suspects in the crime.

That makes Netflix's new documentary American Nightmare a very different proposition to the usual true crime show. According to Netflix it's not so much a whodunnit as a tale of "the consequences of our cultural rush to judgement – and what happens when law enforcement decides the truth can't possibly be true."

The terrifying true story behind American Nightmare

There's no doubt that something happened to Denise Huskins, who disappeared after what her boyfriend described as a home invasion by men wearing wetsuits. The police were skeptical from the start, because Quinn didn't report the kidnapping until the following day – "I was tied up," he said – and because Huskins reappeared two days later, hundreds of miles away, with the ransom unpaid. What sort of kidnappers let their captive go free before there's any cash?

So, something happened. But what? Had Huskins really been kidnapped, or was her story as invented as the one in Gillian Flynn's novel? Did the home invasion really happen? The police, and much of the press, weren't so sure.

In the docuseries, filmmakers Felicity Morris and Bernadette Higgins (who also made The Tinder Swindler) promise to separate fact from fiction. The show features existing interrogation footage as well as brand-new interviews, and in particular it shows how the police investigation quickly turned on Huskins and Quinn as their prime suspects. Were their suspicions justified, or were they guilty of lazy policing while a kidnapper roamed free? You'll have to watch to find out (if you don't just read the reporting of the real story while you wait), but it looks like it could be one of the best Netflix documentaries of the year.

American Nightmare is streaming on Netflix from January 17th.

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Carrie Marshall

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.