The Staircase Murders, right at the turn of the millennium, won the world’s attention with a bizarre story, full of twists, which yielded several documentaries, including the Staircase, from 2018, from Netflix. For those who still don’t remember, it’s about an unsolved case about the death of Kathleen Peterson (Toni Colette), who was found dead and very bloody on the stairs of her house and all the evidence points to a possible crime of passion committed by her husband, Michael Peterson (Colin Firth). Michael claimed that Kathleen fell down the stairs alone while he was out of the house, but a series of secrets and coincidences from his past cast doubt on his narrative.
Directed by Antônio Campos, who in Brazil we still call “the son of Lucas Mendes“, the prestigious journalist and correspondent who was based in the United States, The Staircase – by HBO – is based on the impressive documentary on Netflix, which was shot during investigations and had access to Michael’s home and privacy during the trial. In many moments, it is a faithful reenactment of the series on the competing platform, but with better actors.
The case is old, so you can’t say that what we’re going to talk about is a spoiler. Clearly, Michael Peterson seems to be a compulsive liar and master manipulator, with great charisma that manages to engage everyone around him. Colin Firth is nothing short of spectacular in the role, with his mannerisms and speaking style perfectly done.
Over the course of the investigation into Kathleen’s suspected death, it was discovered that the writer was involved in another similarly suspicious death that involved a fall down the stairs. With so many absurd versions, either Michael is the unluckiest person on the face of the earth or the biggest liar. Nor were his books as creative as his explanations for all the deaths that seem to follow him around.
For Kathleen’s family, she confronted him when she found out that her husband cheated on her with other men. In desperation, he would have murdered her with a blow in her head with a sharp object, and then faked his innocence. Because the crime scene was so saturated, with people coming and going, it was virtually impossible to present hard evidence. The alleged murder weapon was not found until years after the trial when the evidence was no longer clear. Still, Michael’s life had its punishment, the only question being that the crime was never 100% solved. According to the documentary, he admitted his guilt only to shorten his sentence.
The series is, as I said, perfect in its reenactment, with performances and a cast of such weight that it is breathtaking, including Oscar winners Colin and French Juliette Binoche amongst others. Instead of focusing solely on Michael, it gives us a perspective of his children, the impact of so many suspicious deaths around them, and the reality of a truly dysfunctional family beneath its perfection.
The sex scenes and the “accident” are very graphic, raw, and scary. But that’s the director’s intention. In a calm and peaceful-looking world, there was a lot of hidden violence.
The first three episodes are on the platform. Very worth checking out. A series with Emmys written everywhere. Deservedly.