More thrills than education 

Jennifer Pan, the titular character in the Netflix documentary, What Jennifer Did
Photo courtesy of Netflix 

You don’t need to do much to impress me when it comes to documentaries. As long as they report the facts and feature subjects that are at least vaguely interesting, I can usually stomach them, music and editing aside. 

That being said, What Jennifer Did, a foray into the 2010 murder of Bich Pan and attempted murder of Huei Pan, turned out to be more engaging than I expected it to be. 

The twists and turns in the case are well parceled out, the usual film flourishes are not all that distracting, and the runtime is very palatable—but just how accurate is it? 

That is the big question surrounding Netflix’s latest true crime documentary and it’s an important one, if not the most important one to me. 

Not long after What Jennifer Did was released, a couple of the pictures featured in it fell under scrutiny, with many armchair experts and actual experts alike, claiming that they had all the hallmarks of AI-generated imagery. 

The pictures themselves are completely innocuous and irrelevant to the case, only being included as a little background flavor, but their presence does raise the question of whether or not the documentary can be trusted as a whole. If they manipulated these two pictures, what else did they manipulate? 

Executive producer Jeremy Grimaldi responded to these accusations claiming the images in question are legitimate and the telltale distortion in them was a purposeful choice. 

One made in order to help protect the identities of those who provided them and I am inclined to believe him. 

Why create such banal images when thousands of actual pictures just like them must surely exist? 

Questions of veracity aside, What Jennifer Did is solid entertainment in its own right. The revelations are well-paced, new bombshells of information dropping frequently enough that the audience is always kept on their toes but not so frequently that things aren’t given enough time to sink in and breathe. 

The film relies mostly on interviews conducted in the course of the actual police investigation and those filmed after the fact. 

When it does lean on dramatic reenactments they are understated and don’t pull any focus from the reality of the situation. And perhaps the best part of What Jennifer Did is its length—instead of opting for the excessive eight episode format that is popular with documentary makers these days it drops into your living room, tells its story in an hour and a half, and gets out. 

With its AI image controversy, I would say to approach What Jennifer Did skeptically, but that’s really no different than how anyone should approach any documentary. 

The film and its ilk exist to tell a story and entertain and whether that story is distorted is up to better people than me to decide. 

But What Jennifer Did succeeded in what it set out to do, thrill and entertain. 

That’s enough for me. 

What Jennifer Did is now available on Netflix. 

Article written by TJ Reid

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