Murder by the Coast proves another engrossing true-crime film for Netflix. It won’t reinvent the genre, but it’ll please its fans.
This review of Murder by the Coast is spoiler-free.
If there’s an upside to all the horrific things that human beings are capable of, it’s that Netflix can release films and TV series about them from now until the end of time. The streaming giant’s true-crime library is extensive and expansive already, and Murder by the Coast, a new Spanish-language documentary film, fits right in. This one is about the murder of 19-year-old Rocío Wanninkhof in 1999, or at least it is at first. But it quickly becomes about another murder, that of 17-year-old Sonia Carabantes, as well as the woman accused and convicted of it, the real killer, and the frantic media climate and official incompetence that allowed one to be mistaken for the other.
Netflix tends to favor the limited series format for this kind of thing, so a sub-90-minute feature feels breezy by comparison. But that isn’t to say there’s no weight behind the content. The murder of teenage girls – or anyone, really – is always tragic, of course, but there are details here that have also cropped up in several of Netflix’s recent true-crime offerings, as well as many of its most popular ones. It’d be a misreading to suggest the genre is running out of ideas. Instead, this indicates a trend in how many heinous crimes are stymied or solved by the same external factors; how an ostensibly impartial jury of one’s peers is inevitably influenced by the media storm surrounding certain crimes, and how the police, for various reasons, not all of them good, are eager to secure convictions whether they’re sure they have the right culprit or not.
The early focus on Rocío here suggests a less wide-ranging examination that the film ultimately ends up being. The prime suspect quickly becomes María Dolores “Loli” Vázquez, the former lover of Wanninkhof’s mother, Alicia Hornos. But the murder of Sonia widens the scope of the case and indeed the film, taking events across the pond to England, where a back half explores how the botched investigating and social pressures allowed the killer to literally get away with murder for much longer than necessary.
All of Netflix’s true-crime offerings tend to have a baseline level of quality, and Murder by the Coast is no different, employing the usual melange of talking heads, interviews, archival materials, and forensic reports, tying it all together with a strong narrative through-line. The short runtime helps with pacing, and the human component is strong here; some of the personal testimonies are particularly affecting, and the film knows when to let these victims speak for themselves. In such a crowded market, it’s difficult to say whether this case, in particular, will take root in the public consciousness, especially since it was solved. But there’s plenty about it for the discerning true-crime fan to unpack, and they’ll doubtlessly flock to Netflix today to get their latest fix.