True crime series have become immensely popular on Netflix, Hulu, and other streamers. A common criticism of them is that they stretch the stories out to fill a certain number of episodes. If you’re looking for a riveting, fast-paced crime story with no filler, Beyond Human Nature is a film you should not miss. Director Michael Neelsen manages to lay out all the facts and dig into the mysteries of his subject in under two hours. The documentary isn’t needlessly elongated, nor does it feel undercooked. It’s just right.
Thirty-six hours after going missing, the body of Tom Monfils was found in a vat of pulp at the Green Bay, Wisconsin paper factory where he worked. A 40-pound weight was tied around his neck. Shortly before this happened, Monfils was confronted by a co-worker, Keith Kutska, whom he’d recently reported to police for stealing wire from the company. The detective investigating the case, Randy Winkler, came to the conclusion that Kutska murdered him in retaliation, with the assistance of five colleagues. “The Monfils Six,” as they came to be known, proclaimed their innocence from the start.
Beyond Human Nature digs into the curiosities of the case. Why did police give Kutska an audio tape of Monfils’ call, making it easy to identify him? Did Winkler intimidate suspects, as they allege? Was the damning testimony of a witness legitimate or coerced by authorities? And how could the six accused men all stick to the same story thirty years later? If guilty, wouldn’t one of them have cracked by now? These are just a few of the questions posed by the film.
Many of the key players are interviewed on camera, including Winkler, Monfils Six member Michael Piaskoski, and prosecutor John Zakowski. Their perspectives clash in fascinating ways, and the arguments they make counter each other. That idea is at the heart of the film – the “facts” are slightly malleable in this case, able to be interpreted in ways that suggest total guilt or complete innocence on the part of the accused men. You really start to think about how things that are supposedly clear-cut may not be.
At a certain point, I was leaning in one direction in terms of what I thought likely happened. Then, in the last half hour, the documentary introduced a new twist that caused my opinion to go in the complete opposite direction. Wherever you end up landing, Beyond Human Nature is gripping from start to finish. The evidence is laid out thoughtfully and methodically. Either Tom Monfils was brutally murdered or six guys have senselessly had their lives ruined because another explanation exists for his death. Any viewer with interest in true crimes will want to investigate this story and debate what they think.
out of four
Beyond Human Nature is unrated, but contains strong language and mature subject matter. The running time is 1 hour and 49 minutes.