FILM REVIEW: ABDUCTED IN PLAIN SIGHT (TORONTO TRUE CRIME FILM FESTIVAL)
This month will usher in the inaugural Toronto True Crime Film Festival, and with it, some of the most disturbing true crime films from around the world. I had the good fortune to get my hands on the surreal, stranger-than-fiction, true crime documentary ABDUCTED IN PLAIN SIGHT. It’s one of those films that’s so strange, it couldn’t possibly be made up! This reviewer was left scratching his head in disbelief for nearly the entire 91 minute run time. If you like your horrors human, homegrown, and hard to wrap your head around, this film is right up your alley.
The film tells the story of two families, located in an uncomfortably close suburb of Idaho. It’s the story of a community where “no one locks their doors”, and everyone knows everyone else’s business…mostly. If you’re a consumer of true crime stories, you know that this is often times an ideal and fertile setting for some truly monstrous behavior. ABDUCTED IN PLAIN SIGHT fits that bill.
The Broberg family and their kids are ecstatic when the Berchtold family moves in down the street. Why wouldn’t they be? The Berchtold’s are a nice Mormon family just like they are. The Berchtold kids match their own in both age and interests, which makes for a good fit. A charismatic father figure named Robert, affectionately known to everyone as “B”, leads the Berchtold family. B is liked by most everyone and seems to really have a way with kids…especially the Broberg’s 12-year-old daughter Jan. What at first seems playful and cute quickly escalates into full blown kidnapping and pedophilia.
In their own words, the family talks about how B was always fixated on young Jan. He had his own little “dolly” pet names for her, as well as a penchant for getting candid photos of the child. No one thought twice about it, he was just “the fun dad” in the neighborhood. His snapshots of Jan are mostly harmless, but as you’re watching the film, some of them are not as wholesome as they may seem at first glance.
Almost immediately into the film, B decides he wants to take Jan horseback riding…just the two of them. This is where things start to get a little crazy…like batshit crazy! Jan’s parents agree to let her go on the condition she’ll be back in the early evening. Ultimately, 5 days pass before the Brobergs decide to get the law involved…5 whole days!!! It’s a matter of not wanting to bother people, or cause a stir in their small close-knit community. The fact that the Brobergs weren’t overly concerned was appalling, but at the same time, the rest of the Berchtold family was still down the street and telling them not to worry. The FBI gets involved, but both families seem to get in their own way of the investigation.
Weeks go by…the investigation continues with no leads. Stories begin to emerge about B unsuccessfully attempting to get close to other young girls in the community. It seems like all the red flags were obvious, but it was swept under the rug in a “not in my town” sort of mentality. No one wants to cause a fuss, even in the face of such predatory danger. Mind you, the film hasn’t even gotten into Jan’s perspective yet…and that’s when things get really disturbing. B eventually stages an elaborate car jacking scenario to keep the law at bay.
I don’t want to divulge too much more plot detail, as the tale that unfolds is far stranger than anything your imagination could conjure. Jan is eventually returned, but the family doesn’t want to press charges which leads to YEARS of the on and off kidnappings of Jan. Sometimes Jan runs away to be with B, but it always ends up with the two of them on the lam for extended periods of time. On these excursions Jan is given “vitamins” where she loses complete periods of time. However, she does remember waking up to the sounds of a tape recorder almost every night. On this tape recorder are the voices of two “aliens”, who outline their plans for young Jan. The voices tell her that she must mate with a being of their choosing, and wouldn’t you know it…they’ve chosen B as her mate!! The poor girl believes this recording, and it starts her off on a long and misguided path of one of the worst cases of Stockholm Syndrome I’ve ever heard of. One that may last the rest of her life!
If this review seems brief, it’s because there is just too much madness to fit into one article…it simply must be seen to be believed. The film is an exercise in what a master manipulator can get away with under the right circumstances. B plays on every small town cliché with almost infuriating ease. From using small town religious politics to his advantage, to literally seducing both of Jan’s parents and shaming them with the possible fallout of such infidelities. His insane plans seem to work with expert precision that will have you on the edge of your seat.
Director Skye Borgman does a wonderful job of thrusting you into this hellish tale almost immediately, while somehow managing to stay objective to the story. It would be easy to place singular blame, that is until the next piece of the puzzle is revealed. There are so many moving parts to this tragedy; it can sometimes be hard to figure out how many people were at fault. It’s obvious that B is the catalyst and true villain here, but so many other factors play into his scheme that it’s almost hard to fathom. Perhaps this man was an evil genius, or perhaps this was just the perfect storm of events and personalities that allowed for this bizarre abduction case to even exist.
ABDUCTED IN PLAIN SIGHT plays Friday June 8th (7:00pm) at The Royal Cinema for the TORONTO TRUE CRIME FILM FESTIVAL.
“The tale that unfolds is far stranger than anything your imagination could conjure.”
4 Tombstones out of 5