‘Why Did You Kill Me?’ Review: To Catfish a Killer

“Why Did You Kill Me?” tells the story of a terrible and arbitrary killing: the death of a young woman named Crystal Theobald in Riverside, California, who was shot when a member of a neighborhood gang opened fire on her car. Theobald had no connection whatsoever to her killer, and indeed the murder seemed so random that investigators didn’t initially know how to proceed with the case.

Theobald’s death was tragic. But the circumstances were not exactly sensational, or even particularly unique — a pretty meager basis, in other words, for a feature length true crime documentary, where the compelling details of a case are its entire appeal. “Why Did You Kill Me?” (streaming on Netflix) seizes on the one intriguing wrinkle to be found: the efforts of Belinda Lane, Crystal’s mother, to solve the murder herself, by creating a fake profile on the social media site Myspace and befriending possible suspects.

The director, Fredrick Munk, dramatizes Belinda’s true-crime catfishing by showing us Myspace from the desktop-POV style of films like the thriller “Searching” and the horror movie “Unfriended.” But these virtual recreations, as well as Munk’s use of handcrafted miniatures and a pulsing electronic score that takes cues from Nicolas Winding Refn’s “Drive,” feel like vain attempts to invigorate limp material.

Munk avoids grappling with anything serious or difficult — for instance, the socio-economic factors that produce these kinds of killings in the first place. Instead, the movie fixates on the case’s one novelty, its tangential connection to an outdated social media site. Just because a crime is true doesn’t mean it’s interesting. And as “Why Did You Kill Me?” makes clear, without substance, a dash of style won’t do.

Why Did You Kill Me?
Not rated. Running time: 1 hour 23 minutes. Watch on Netflix.

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