Filmmakers (and brothers-in-law) Stu Stone and Adam Rodness have done the documentary format (Netflix’s Jack of All Trades) and are no strangers to horror (Scarecrows, The Haunted House on Kirby Road). Their newest film — Faking a Murderer — is a clever, crazed combination of the two genres, creating a unique, unreal true crime story.
Directed by Stone and co-written by Rodness and Stone, Faking a Murderer follows the two filmmakers on their noble yet perhaps misguided quest to track down a seedy-looking stranger they’ve discovered online who — in a disturbing video — seemingly confesses to a murder. Or at least that’s what they think. Seeing the popularity of true crime shows, they decide to try and turn this discovery into their own killer hit. With the support of a distributor (both moral and financial), Stone and Rodness set off on their journey to try and track down this elusive creep. When they bring the video to law enforcement, they’re told — repeatedly — that it’s really not much to go on, and they’re putting a lot of time and energy into what essentially is a fool’s errand. Determined to make this work, they flex, stretch, and break their budget in pursuit of a hit new crime story. Are they in over their heads? Yes. Is it fun to watch? Absolutely.
There’s a sincerity in Rodness and Stone’s determination (and their performances) that makes for a really endearing and entertaining film. But with that determination comes misguided confidence and unchecked hubris. Stone and Rodness really — really — want this guy to be the murderer they’ve been searching for. There’s a lot lying on the line if they’re wrong, so the question is, how far will they go to make a true crime story… well… true?
Fans of Digging Up the Marrow will find a kind of familiarity in Faking a Murderer, in which filmmakers — playing themselves — use their experience and resources to investigate a mystery. The marketing for the film avoids the term “mockumentary”, instead promoting it as an “unreal true crime story”. As “unreal” as it is, it feels very true; you’re pulled in by its simple sincerity. Think of it as less Behind the Mask: the Rise of Leslie Vernon and more Catfish-meets-Deliverance, with an energy that slides from silly to somber.
Throughout the film, Rodness and Stone’s various pitches, interviews, and meetings blur the line between truth and fiction; their conversations are earnest, their energy keen, and their hopes high. It makes it easy to lose your sense of what scenes are carefully crafted versus those that unfold organically. This balance of sincerity and scripted keeps Faking a Murderer grounded and honest, while still stirring in some drama to keep things interesting.
I won’t speak too much on the film’s final scenes (it’s far more fun to see for yourself), but I will say that it’s a great finish that throws a solid punch, while at the same time, lightheartedly cushioning the blow. There’s an epilogue that sums it all up perfectly and shows that Rodness and Stone don’t take themselves too seriously.
With Faking a Murderer, Rodness and Stone have created a film that is both grounded and completely off the rails, tossing caution to the wind to chase down a wild story. They’re stubborn and recklessly optimistic, which — in this case — is a winning combination. Faking a Murderer may lean less on the “true” part of true crime, but it sure knows how to be “unreal”.
You can find Faking a Murderer on Hollywood Suite, or watch the trailer below