There’s something about Casting JonBenét . It’s not a documentary but it’s not a crime drama. It’s barely even sketch of a moment. The film is instead a curious, fascinating moving podcast that people will latch onto and talk about as a fact embedded in cultural consciousness. It is a film about itself.
The movie is exactly what you think it’s about: a team of filmmakers hoping to cast talent for a movie about JonBenét Ramsey, a child murdered over twenty years ago whose death still haunts pop culture today. The resulting hour and twenty minutes is a wandering Lynchian juxtaposition of scenes reenacting the horrors of JonBenét’s final days paired with auditions with locals in Boulder, Colorado—the town where the girl died—vying for roles in the film.
The resulting media item is a meta-theatrical experience, a community play of gossip and glee brought together for an oral history on steroids. It is an exercise in jogging group think and grief. It’s also a study of whiteness and point of view, a slowly revolving carousel of characters pretending to be people they’ve seen on the news and thusly explaining how they intimately relate. Some of the participants knew the people they are trying to play in the film and are accordingly uncomfortably numb presences. The film represents the sour reality of fame culture, the seeking of an acting job about a child’s death that you will have to replay since you were adjacent when it happened. Cannibalizing one’s own canon.
The movie does wonder a few things that society hasn’t fully discussed in the two decades since JonBenét died. Did her death birth pageant culture? Are American tropes like Santa Claus actually killing us? Does this movie and it’s view of pageantry point out that this fame seeking mindset is dying? Will we ever get the truth of tragedies like JonBenét’s? Can we ever escape our pasts?
The characters embody the idea of armchair conspiracy theorists placed into a naturalist stage production to work through their own trauma. The end of film comes as a lost M83 music video spliced with deleted scenes from an alternate reality’s Donnie Darko. What you get from Casting JonBenét is less of a document of anything but a metaphor for the late phases of American culture.
It’s a strange movie. It’s not necessarily a good movie but it is something to watch, to discuss, to think about beyond some little girl who died. It aspires to be—and is—more than small facts brought to life.
You can watch Casting JonBenét now on Netflix.