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‘I Am A Stalker’ Review: Putting the Truth Back in True Crime

Promotional image for Netflix's "I Am a Stalker."
Promotional image for Netflix's "I Am a Stalker." By Courtesy of Netflix
By Avery Britt, Contributing Writer

In a media landscape overrun with sensationalized true crime podcasts, overly-praised murderer biopics, and a six o’clock news lineup that looks more like a stack of police reports than unbiased journalism, can an ethical exploration into the realities of crime exist? While Netflix has a recent track record of controversial depictions of criminology, the docuseries “I Am A Stalker” could be a rare unblemished entry in the streaming service’s spotted crime lineup. The follow-up to the popular series “I Am A Killer” chronicles eight criminal cases, with each episode taking a deep dive into a different incident of convicted stalking. Featuring a broad array of interviewees, all with different relationships to the crime, and an overall understated tone, “I Am A Stalker” at last presents a somewhat respectable option for true crime consumption.

“I Am A Stalker,” as its title suggests, features the perspective of perpetrators of relatively unknown stalking crimes. While this choice of point of view risks deifying a new group of lawbreakers and opening the door for copy-cat cases, the docuseries only spends cursory time on each stalker’s position. Instead, Netflix opts to give more weight to the stories of victims and experts (i.e. criminologists, local police, etc.), making the stalker’s words almost inconsequential — simply pieces of information used to give backstory to the account, rather than to sensationalize or apologize for it. However, even while the perpetrators’ screen time is minimal, the series doesn’t allow for a mystification of their actions. Often, true crime works that don’t heavily feature the offender can be a trap for the martyring of violent lawbreakers. Because an unclear portrait is painted of this person, enthusiasts begin to excuse their crime, often crafting narratives on why this culprit might actually be the “victim” of the situation. However, the stalkers in “I Am A Stalker” seem like typical people, not stars awaiting potential celebrity.

The hardest feat of an ethical crime documentary has always been presenting perspectives in a way that makes even the most sensationalized crime, unsensational. In recent years, this credo, supposedly meant to define the true crime world, has fallen victim to cheap attempts at cash grabs, frights, and the ever-present, “You’ll never believe what happens after the commercial break!” But Netflix’s lack of commercials is not the reason why “I Am A Stalker” reclaims this motto — it’s their plainclothes tactic to make crime media real again. The problem at the core of the true crime genre, even in documentaries, is the fictionalization of real crimes; and with murder and extortion schemes that sometimes sound like the plot of a Martin Scorsese movie, it’s easy to find tantalizing “drama” in events that are all too real. However, “I Am A Stalker” attempts to demolish the mindset of “this fiction could never happen to me” in its use of a bare bones documentary style.

By making its interviews so matter-of-fact and its presentation style so banal, the docuseries highlights the commonality of stalking. Everything from the simple, white intertitles of stalking incident facts to the repetitive staging of the interviews reeks of plainness. The series feels like a run-of-the-mill, everyday documentary, which highlights the fact that stalking is an everyday crime that can not only affect the most “normal” people but can also come from the most common places. Many of the stalkers featured in the show were loved ones or former friends turned to harmful gawkers in a blink. And while this style makes “I Am A Stalker” a boring binge watch, it honors the stories of these victims as something more than a spectacle meant to be gawked at like a based-on-a-true-story horror movie. It adds reality to what has only been melodrama — a much needed addition in the crime documentary genre.

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