Skye Borgman has quickly become streaming’s reigning queen of true crime, courtesy of last December’s Dead Asleep on Hulu and this July’s The Girl in the Picture on Netflix—the latter of which remains a top 10 global hit for the service. Not content to rest on her laurels, the prolific non-fiction director returns on Aug. 9 with I Just Killed My Dad, a three-part Netflix docuseries about abduction, coercion, domination and murder that shares chilling similarities with her most recent film. Beginning with a seemingly open-and-shut case before peeling back layers to reveal a thoroughly rotten core, it’s a study of silent, invisible abuse and the trauma and tragedy it can bring about, as well as—in a surprising twist for this bleakest of genres—a tale about the criminal justice system actually working as it should.
I Just Killed My Dad makes no bones about the literal guilt of its subject, Anthony Templet of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, who on June 3, 2019, shot and killed his father, Burt Templet, and then called 911 and calmly confessed to what he’d done. When police arrived, they found the 17-year-old waiting for them, and in a new interview, Anthony states that he was surprised that he was handcuffed and taken away, since he figured that after a brief conversation the issue would be dropped. That assumption wasn’t the only strange thing about this situation. Anthony claimed that he’d shot his father in self-defense but he had no bruises that would denote a scuffle, and the house was in neat and orderly shape—save for a crack in Burt’s bedroom door, which Anthony said had been caused by his dad trying to break into the locked room to get at him.
If that didn’t bode well for Anthony, the fact that he’d taken out two loaded pistols that evening (both owned by Burt) suggested not that he was frantically trying to save his own life, but that he had deliberate intent to kill—a notion Anthony nonchalantly corroborated, explaining that he wanted both guns in his possession in the event that one failed to work. Assistant District Attorney Dana Cummings and Sergeant William Brown both believed the evidence indicated that this was murder, and in his subsequent interrogation-room interview with Brown, Anthony’s flat, emotionless demeanor only further made them think they had a potential sociopath on their hands. Clips from that chat presented in I Just Killed My Dad do Anthony no favors, depicting the kid dully elucidating what occurred and making no pains to absolve himself of his culpability—and, weirder still, not being able to accurately provide his birthday or home address.
The tale Anthony told law enforcement is that on the night in question, he’d been awakened by his father, who was going through his phone and had discovered that Anthony was surreptitiously conversing with his stepmother Susan, who had recently moved out of the house with her son Peyton. An argument over this invasion of privacy ensued, during which Anthony became so fearful of Burt that he collected the man’s pistols and fired off three shots, two of which struck their target. Apparently, Burt cried out for his son to stop, but Anthony showed no mercy. Additionally undermining his self-defense argument, Anthony admitted that he had pursued his father into a nearby bathroom before shooting—an act that ran counter to the idea that he had no other options because he was in imminent peril. On the face of it, there wasn’t much to this saga, and news reports from the period initially treated it as just another one of Louisiana’s regular homicides.
Netflix doesn’t produce multi-part docuseries for no reason, however, and I Just Killed My Dad soon exposes a raft of complicating factors. Interviews with Anthony, Susan, Peyton and more relatives—as well as fly-on-the-wall footage that Borgman filmed as the story unfolded—shine a light on a domestic situation of truly warped dimensions, which came to light courtesy of his coworkers at a local nursery, a DNA specialist, and criminal defense attorney Jarrett Ambeau, who together learned that Anthony’s bizarre behavior was a byproduct of his horrid upbringing. It turned out that Burt was an abusive alcoholic monster who had tormented and terrorized his first wife Teresa Thompson and then, through canny manipulation of the legal system, snatched their son Anthony and fled to Louisiana, where he’d been hiding out for the better part of 11 years. To maintain this cover, he had kept Anthony out of school (since it was easier to veil an ignorant, sheltered boy), equipped the house with security cameras, installed GPS tracking devices on Anthony and Susan’s phones, and generally operated like a controlling tyrant who was prone to explode in a violent rage at any moment.
Borgman recounts this with a standard mixture of interviews, crime scene photographs, and dramatic recreations whose dreariness is offset by sharp editorial cross-cutting. In particular, she benefits from the participation of virtually every principal player in this story, including Anthony, who even at 18 seems a shell of a teenager. By its conclusion, I Just Killed My Dad transforms into a portrait of behind-closed-doors cruelty that’s chilling precisely because its perpetrator so easily concealed it from the world. Moreover, it’s a reminder that often the truth about a crime, and a life, can only be attained by understanding the larger context in which it took place. Per the series’ title, Anthony most definitely killed his dad, but Borgman’s latest is ultimately less concerned with the details of that fateful act than the more eye-opening and heart-rending ones that preceded—and begat—it.
That prosecutors and the courts found a way to comprehend Anthony’s situation, and the reasons why he killed Burt, is a stirring example of the system getting things right. Nonetheless, nightmares such as this never end with completely happy endings, and a final interview with the now-exonerated Anthony is proof that, sometimes, things that are broken can never be totally put back together again.