In today’s golden age of true crime media, it can be hard to imagine new ways to tell these tragic stories. Netflix’s American Murder: The Family Next Door achieves this by elevating the voice of the victim. Nainita Desai, who composed the score, works seamlessly with this vision using found sound. As the documentary transitions between archival footage and law enforcement recordings, a string quintet plays over images of old texts from victim Shannan Watts.
The texts are animated to type out in real time, letting Shannan to tell her own story as much as possible. The sound of fingernails tapping on phone screens is incorporated into the score itself as percussive tension rhythms. Chilling as the story is, the filmmaking and score aim not to fetishize or shock, but to provide authenticity and agency to the victims.
Desai, a Royal Television Award-winning composer, is known for her immersive scores that often use a collection of custom-made instruments and incorporate electronics and experimental sound design.
This behind the scenes video provides an inside look at how the documentary’s sound was recorded.