Film: American Nightmare
Director: Bernadette Higgins and Felicity Morris
Cast: Denise Huskins, Aaron Quinn, Matthew Muller, Amy Morton, Dan Russo, Doug Rappaport, Henry Lee and Misty Carausu
This is a crime docu-series where the actual crime is side-stepped by the treatment of the crime at the hands of the law enforcement authority. Two points come to the fore — one, cops do watch crime thrillers (like ‘Gone Girl’) and two, some of them take these make-believe stories a tad too seriously.
The tone of ‘American Nightmare’ is set from the very beginning when 30-year-old Aaron Quinn dials 911 to report a kidnapping case on the fateful day in March 2015. His 29-year-old girlfriend Denise Huskins is forcefully taken away from their home in Vallejo, California. The police are sceptical — “My girlfriend got kidnapped last night, you say. You didn’t call last night”, to which Quinn replies, “I was tied up.” The sarcastic tone asks him, “What time did you get untied, sir?”
The series unfolds with news clips, audio recordings, footage of the police and the FBI aggressively interrogating the victims and no-holds-barred interviews with Quinn and Huskins, their families and their attorneys. And yes, a sequence from ‘Gone Girl’, too. There are re-enactments as well, which are shadowy and restrained. With no drama or titillation, the makers help the viewers stay with the core issue.
As Quinn tells the investigators how a few persons broke in, pumped him with sedatives and kidnapped Huskins, he becomes the prime suspect. In the interrogation room, detective Mat Mustard tells Quinn, “I start figuring out... how do I make it (this case) so that you look like a monster.”
Media trial is inevitable. There is enough footage to catch the frenzy. “We’re looking at suspicion falling on the boyfriend,” says crime reporter Henry Lee of the San Francisco Chronicle. The series highlights the FBI’s bullying tactics as Special Agent Peter French conducts a polygraph test on Quinn and tells him that he failed, knowing full well that the results say otherwise. “She’s gone… and you know she’s gone,” he tells Quinn.
But Huskins suddenly resurfaces 400 miles away, at her hometown of Huntington. She gives her statement about being kidnapped and raped. The police think the whole thing is a hoax. Too bad for Huskins because ‘Gone Girl’, where Rosamund Pike’s character Amy stages her own kidnapping to seek revenge on Ben Affleck’s character Nick, had hit the screens just six months before the incident.
Lt Kenny Park of Vallejo Police Department says, “Mr Quinn and Ms Huskins have plundered valuable resources away from our community… If anything, it is they who owe this community an apology.”
Their ordeal first at the hands of Huskins’ captor, and then the investigators, media and online trolls wouldn’t have come to an end had it not been for a diligent police officer, Misty Carausu, who makes the connection between Huskins and the actual kidnapper, Matthew Muller. Her method of unravelling the mystery makes for a gripping watch. A question mark remains over why the investigators did not probe Muller’s confession to Huskins that his target was actually Quinn’s ex, Andrea. The case finally gets its closure in 2017 as Muller gets 40 years in prison for his serial offence and Huskins and Quinn receive $2.5 million in an out-of-the-court settlement after suing the police.
But unfortunately for us viewers, who seethed at the callous attitude of the investigating officers, the postscript comes as a shocker — none of those involved with the case were ‘disciplined’ and what’s more, Mustard even bagged the Police Officer of the Year award in 2015.
Hope this real bit of information does not become a template for some thrill-seeking cops!