Published Jun 07, 2018Abducted in Plain Sight is a total mindfuck of a true crime documentary. With brutal honesty, it tells the harrowing story of a deeply twisted man who preys on a naive family's vulnerabilities, the details of which are so strange they'll make your head spin.
This is the kind of case that goes from a kidnapping to a complex series of sexual manipulations, to a Mexican prison, to a secret radio that brainwashes a young girl into believing in a Christ-like space alien. And that's just the first half hour.
The film tells the true story of the Brobergs, a churchgoing Idaho family whose 12-year-old daughter Jan was groomed by a family friend, Robert Berchtold. Unbeknownst to the Brobergs, Berchtold was a pedophile who was dangerously obsessed with their daughter. For years, Berchtold emotionally and sexually manipulated almost every member of the Broberg family, entering into a sexual relationship with both Jan's mother and father, to get closer to Jan.
In October 1974, Broberg kidnapped Jan under the guise of taking her to a party, but instead fled to Mexico while her terrified parents panicked — but they didn't call the police until days after she and Berchtold had gone missing. Berchtold's control over the Broberg family was so absolute, they trusted him completely, even when he disappeared with their daughter. The now-adult Jan tells a deeply disturbing story of how Berchtold convinced her that she was half-alien, and in order to save the human race, she had to enter into a sexual relationship with him.
It would be easy to cast judgment on the Brobergs — especially when Jan goes missing again several years later, the second of Berchtold's two kidnappings. But the film takes care to explain how paedophilia wasn't a concept most parents were afraid of yet in the mid-'70s, and Berchtold was so adept at manipulation that it's not difficult to see how he exploited the family's weaknesses in order to carry out these sickening crimes.
The series of revelations dropped over the course of Abducted in Plain Sight, each more jaw-dropping than the last, are well-paced, mind-blowing at times and heartbreaking at others. But to the film's credit, it never positions them as wildly pulpy or lurid, instead treating its subjects with sensitivity, allowing them to tell their story with stark frankness.
Aesthetically there's not much that sets Abducted in Plain Sight apart from most true crimes documentary, adopting the familiar "talking head" interview format and grainy re-enactment footage styled to look like old Super 8 films. But the strangeness of this case, one that reveals how Middle America and the criminal justice system was so wholly unprepared for a case this complicated and depraved, make it gripping to watch unfold.
For tickets and information on the Toronto True Crime Festival, click here.
(Top Knot Films)