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“Abducted in Plain Sight” shares chilling tale of local kidnapping saga

The Art of Nerding Out

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When it comes to believability, the story at the heart of the recently-released crime documentary “Abducted in Plain Sight” crosses deeply into stranger-than-fiction territory. A twisted tale of kidnapping, family strife and lies, “Abducted” details a real-life event that happened locally back in the seventies. It’s a disturbing story full of betrayed trust that may shake your faith in humanity.

“Abducted” unspools the kidnapping drama surrounding the Broberg family and centering on the abduction of daughter Jan by Robert Berchtold, a close family friend. But it goes much deeper than the abduction. Berchtold works to destroy Jan’s family, seducing both of Jan’s parents and threatening blackmail in an effort to avoid punishment.

Even more bizarre is the fantastical story Berchtold tells Jan in order to keep her compliant. It involves space aliens and her conceiving a child as the key to save the world. Berchtold brainwashes her into thinking horrible things will befall her loved ones if she doesn’t follow through. On top of that, Berchtold is able to stretch the emotional torture of the Broberg family out for years, both antagonizing and manipulating the Brobergs.

“Abducted” touches many nerves and brings many questions to mind. Jan’s ordeal and the loss of her innocence are heartbreaking, as are the pain and damage caused to her parents. At the same time, it’s hard not to wonder why the Brobergs continued to communicate with Berchtold, especially after authorities told them not to.

More questions: Why didn’t they kick Berchtold to the curb when it became clear he was trying to seduce both of them? How did Berchtold manage to avoid serious jail time in spite of the fact that he had an established record of predatory behavior?

All these thoughts make watching “Abducted” as frustrating as it is fascinating because it seems there were multiple off ramps the Brobergs could have taken out of the situation and they repeatedly failed to do so. It makes it hard to watch the film without being judgmental. It’s a bit like watching a horror movie where the characters continually make stupid decisions that lead them to their ends. You scream at the screen til you go hoarse, but it doesn’t do any good.

Adding another layer for East Idaho residents is the fact that much of “Abducted” takes place in Pocatello. While its 1970s setting is no more than a memory, hearing familiar names of places adds an element of recognition that makes the story hit a little harder. It makes it all the more disturbing that such unnerving events as these could happen in one of our communities.

This movie was directed by Skye Borgman, who cobbles the film together from a standard combination of current-day interviews and dramatized narrative footage. The narrative segments of “Abducted” are shot in grainy, color-manipulated footage to distinguish them from the rest of the film and clue you into the fact that “this is flashback stuff.” Borgman also lets takes linger as the Brobergs get emotional, and that is very affecting.

In the end, “Abducted in Plain Sight” definitely draws a visceral reaction. How different viewers react will depend entirely on how sympathetic they find the Brobergs to be. I myself feel for them because of what they’ve been through, and it scares me that something this messed-up could happen so close to my home. But I also have questions about why steps weren’t taken by the family to end the ordeal sooner. All in all, the film is fascinating and if you’re a fan of true crime media, you’ll probably enjoy it.

”Abducted in Plain Sight” is currently available to stream on Netflix.