While some of Netlfix’s crime documentaries have been genuinely brilliant, Memories of a Murderer: The Nilsen Tapes is not one of them.
Nothing in the 95-minute film about the Fraserburgh-born serial killer is particularly revelatory and using recordings of Nilsen’s voice to narrate his own story is in dubious taste at best.
Remember this is a man who knew exactly what he was doing and drip-fed information about his crimes and victims as part of a power play with police detectives.
These recordings, culled from cassette tapes he made in prison, positively ooze with his own self-importance and sound like the rantings of a man trying to memorialise his place in British crime history.
I don’t even want to think about how pleased he’d be that one of the biggest entertainment giants on the planet has chosen to make a film about him.
Even if you set aside questions about the rights and wrongs of relying so heavily on the audio, it’s not like the rest of the documentary is particularly satisfying for true crime addicts either.
It covers all the same beats – Nilsen’s arrest, the investigation and trial – with occasional digressions, such as his troubled childhood and the culture of homophobia that was rampant at the time of the killings.
I was most interested to see what the makers had dug up about his school years in the north-east, but that section was frustratingly sparse, relying instead on archive newsreel footage of his mum and moody shots of waves crashing on the shore and seagulls in slow motion.
Anyone who’s seen Netflix true crime documentaries will recognise these over-stylised tricks (normally inserted to pad out parts where real footage doesn’t exist) but the makers went a bit further in this.
Am I the only one who thought it was a bit distasteful to interview witnesses on a shadowy set that was clearly dressed to resemble a grimy bedsit like Nilsen’s?
If you know nothing about Nilsen and his crimes Memories of a Murderer is probably a passable overview of the case and I supposed we should all be thankful that Netflix didn’t do what they normally do and stretch it out over multiple episodes.
But if you like your true crime documentaries to feel like they honour the victims rather than the perpetrators, it comes up woefully short.
Memories of a Murderer: The Nilsen Tapes is available to stream on Netflix now