Recently, there’s been a surge of Netflix releases centered around murderous, nightmarish and disturbing themes. Dark Tourist, The Staircase and I Am A Killer have secured their place as some of Netflix’s most startling and unsettling releases of this year; and coincidentally, some of the most popular picks since their release.
Dark Tourist, an 8-part docuseries where host David Farrier travels the globe to investigate dark tourist attractions— attractions associated with tragedy, death and the morbid— is one of them. Farrier explores sites such as Fukushima, Kazakhstan, and Aokigahara (more widely referred to as Japan’s suicide forest)— places that we as viewers may not be able to endure, unless of course, experienced second hand in the safety of our own homes. Farrier involves himself in situations that are controversial, macabre, and extreme.
Though one may assume that to be the host of such a series, one must be engrossed in these kinds of worlds, that’s not necessarily the case here. Farrier’s responses when amidst these extreme situations assure the audience that his eccentric endeavors are driven purely out of curiosity, and not to fulfill some sort of thirst for the morbid. Had Farrier’s reaction been anything but shocked, concerned, or frightened in some of these episodes, he’d be far too removed from his audience. His perspective is one that aligns with what (one would assume) most viewers at home are feeling, which is part of the reason why these shows feel like a shared experience between Farrier and his viewers.
The Staircase is a docuseries that follows the infamous 2001 murder of Kathleen Peterson, novelist Micheal Peterson’s wife. This series exposes a detailed, personal look into the Peterson family during an extremely sensitive time; showcasing Michael Peterson’s trial as if some fictional scandalous murder mystery and not a true story of loss and tragedy. Much of what makes The Staircase so fascinating was the recent reopening of this case years later and the massive uproar it caused during the time. Once word hit that evidence used in trial to convict Peterson had been tampered with, questions of his innocence arose throughout the country. There’s nothing that will grab attention like a mistrial— especially one that may have been responsible for locking up an innocent man for 8 years.
I Am A Killer is a Netflix original that consists of interviews with death row inmates, unearthing their personal accounts and the motives behind their gruesome murders. This show is absorbing for entirely an different reason; viewers will spend nearly an hour each episode watching, listening, and attempting to fathom the chilling stories. These are ruthless and detailed accounts of murders told often with little remorse or guilt expressed. Sure, an episode of I Am A Killer may be a bit disruptive to one’s mental state; but alternatively, this kind of show provides a look into a world that most of us are deeply withdrawn from. It’s a closer look at the uncanny; pointing the lens towards a side of humanity that demands closer examination to grasp the slightest degree of understanding (to what is otherwise unfathomable) is what keeps viewers coming back for more.
Shows that deal with the grotesque, the bizarre, the dark and the morbid are of course irresistible content simply because of their unconventionality. That shock factor is undoubtedly alluring. Dark Tourist, The Staircase, and I Am A Killer expose the wicked sides of humanity more intimately, performing a sort of case study the world’s most peculiar and unnerving minds.
Though these shows provide both an educational and thrilling insight to worlds unknown, these shows also walk a fine line between documentation and exploitation. Watching Michael Peterson’s children relive their mother’s death and go through their father’s conviction throughout the years can feel extremely invasive at times; leaving the viewer in a state of discomfort, wondering if watching is a bit of a crime in itself. But more often than not, the disconnect will allow us to continue feasting our eyes on the content before us. It’s strange, but we tend to find comfort is discomfort— so long as we are far removed from it.