In the latest in a seemingly never-ending production line of Netflix true-crime documentaries, 'Our Father' focuses on the story of an Indianapolis fertility doctor who used his own sperm to inseminate countless women without their knowledge or consent for decades, resulting in dozens of siblings finding out the horrific truth of their origins.
As the opening shot of 'Our Father' slowly pans through the empty rooms of a doctor's surgery, one immediately gets the feeling of dread. The shot is reminiscent of a horror movie, building up tension to the point of panic. The pit in your stomach gets bigger and bigger as the true evil is revealed.
Straight off the bat, 'Out Father' sets the tone of what this documentary is going to entail. A close up shot of a cross-stitch which reads a passage of the Old Testament, "Before I formed you in your mother's womb, I knew you". A sinister foreshadowing masquerading as a wholesome, Christian message.
The documentary follows the story of Jacoba Ballard, a blonde-haired, blue-eyed only child in a family of brunettes. Jacoba knew something was off from an early age. After some digging, using modern services like 23AndMe, she quickly discovered that her DNA led back to her family's doctor, Donald Cline.
Unsurprisingly at this point, we find out Jacoba isn't the only one who was conceived using the doctor's sperm. As we delve deeper into the documentary, we find out there are dozens of siblings, all offspring of Cline.
The revelations are truly shocking, and the sheer number of people this man affected horrific. The concentration of siblings is so much that, at one point one sibling, Lisa, mentions she has to warn her kids about who they date in their school as they may be related.
"When we get a new sibling alert, you're praying 'please don't let it be somebody I know, or please don't let it be somebody I dated.'"
The cracks in the way this story is told start to appear once more and more siblings show up on screen. It goes without saying that all of their testimonies are distressing. But the repetition of the same story starts to, by essence, dilute them.
The narrative threatens to switch to more interesting avenues. Cline's links to the cult-like Christian movement Quiverfull, which endorses procreation in the extreme. The group's alleged ties with the district attorney's office are revealed by Ballard, but we never get to follow that lead either. Ultimately, the documentary fails to explore what could lead it into a more compelling direction.
We do get some intriguing insight into the relationships between siblings, however. A group meet up to discuss how they can take down Cline as he begins to threaten and harass them out of desperation to cover the truth. Seeing one relationship in particular between Ballard and her half-sibling Jason Hyatt (or "Sibling #48") shows the link between strangers all bound by a common connection. "Jason and I are very similar," gushes Ballard.
What will be interesting is what unfolds from the release of this documentary. As of production, there were 94 siblings linked back to Cline. It's practically inevitable more will appear now. Cline is still a free man as of a 2019 Atlantic report and hasn't faced much consequences of his actions. It's clear that this documentary is important for the case and will hopefully lead to justice prevailing.
However, The lack of depth and unexplored avenues, together with the screeching violins and cheap horror tricks that director Lucie Jourdan uses throughout the documentary make for frustrating viewing. It all seems to get bogged down in the sheer weight of the subject matter, which is by no means easy to take on.
The tension is built and the atmosphere of dread well established throughout. But ultimately, 'Our Father' forgets that these stories have to lead somewhere.
'Our Father' is available to stream on Netflix now.