Murder in the Alps, review: ghoulish docuseries treats death as entertainment

·2 min read
Zaid al-Hilli reflects on his brother’s death - Channel 4
Zaid al-Hilli reflects on his brother’s death - Channel 4

You might think there’s too much true crime on TV. You’d be absolutely right. Letting Murder in the Alps (Channel 4) sprawl across the schedules for three consecutive nights definitely doesn’t help. This docuseries delved into the brutal massacre of a British family in France a decade ago. In September 2012, police arrived at a woodland picnic spot near Lake Annecy to find Surrey engineer Saad al-Hilli, his dentist wife, Iqbal, and her mother, Suhaila, shot dead in their car.

Nearby lay the body of local cyclist Sylvain Mollier. Saad and Iqbal’s seven-year-old daughter, Zainab, had also been shot and left for dead but miraculously survived. Cowering under her mother’s skirt was Zainab’s four-year-old sister, Zeena, terrified but alive.

The subsequent account of the labyrinthine international investigation was a litany of incompetence. The gendarmerie waited eight hours for a forensic team to arrive. English and French police failed to communicate. Embarrassing errors and wrongful arrests were made. Not only was it infuriating, it was downright ghoulish. Did we really need retired detective Mark Preston pacing around the murder site with his fingers forming a gun, shouting “Bang, bang!”? Or graphic references to “heads with bullet holes in them”? Or sensationalist news clips about “a child’s pink bike, standing abandoned”? I hope the al-Hilli girls, now in their teens, weren’t watching.

When the credits rolled, the next two parts were available to stream on All 4. Episode two saw the story disappear up blind alleys, rather like the investigation itself. Did Saad’s brother, Zaid, hire a Romanian hitman due to an inheritance dispute? Was a Louisiana man poisoned on the same day as part of a spy conspiracy? Was there a murky link to Saddam Hussein’s missing millions? No, no and no respectively.

Among the rare voices of reason were family friend James Matthews, who called out the racist tone of media coverage, and Royal Marine-turned-crime writer Andrew Rigsby, who scoffed at lazy assumptions. The concluding episode at least flipped the case on its head with a fresh theory but it was left dangling frustratingly. The killer remains unfound.

There’s a phenomenon known as “Netflix bloat”, where the streaming service fails to edit shows down, seemingly for the sake of retaining eyeballs. This was the terrestrial equivalent. The narrative was repetitive, the pacing ponderous. A story that could have been told in 60 minutes instead stretched across three ultimately unfulfilling hours.

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