The true story of ‘Vigilante’ is based on real events but with tweezers

After the success of Dahmer and the true story of the cannibal killer, its creator Ryan Murphy return to the platform Netflix with another series inspired by a case from the black chronicle. Is about Watcher (The Watcher), a bet that plays between drama and thriller to tell the story of a family that after buying the house of their dreams begins to be harassed by threatening letters from a stranger. Nevertheless, for more than the description official of the series explain that it is “based on a true story”, I advise you to take it with a grain of salt.

Because as much as the harassment has happened in real life, the plot of Vigilant it has as much fiction as ‘true crime’.

Vigilant.  Cr. Eric Liebowitz/Netflix ©  2022

Vigilant. Credit Eric Liebowitz/Netflix © 2022

In this seven episode series, naomi watts Y bobby cannavale They play Nora and Dean Brannock, a couple who invest all their savings to move, along with their children, to a mansion in New Jersey looking to start a quieter life, away from the hustle and bustle of New York. However, the move does not bode well for them as they soon begin to receive disturbing letters from a stranger who claims to be the protector of the house and seems to be watching them very closely.

To all this is added a coven of sinister neighbors, a police chief uninterested in helping them and the constant succession of terrifying situations, which forces the couple to hire a private detective to try to find the person responsible. With this potpourri of dramatic arcs, Ryan Murphy ends up creating a bizarre series with airs more similar to his other successful work, American Horror Story, than a good example of black chronicle. And this is precisely because the real story is very, very different.

To begin with, the series is based on a report by nyc magazine published in 2018, entitled ‘The haunting of a dream house’ (something like ‘The curse of the dream house’) where the journalist Reeves Wiedeman reviewed the entire case through the story of the couple themselves. Who are actually named Maria and Derek Broaddus. In 2018 there was a fierce bid in Hollywood to get the rights, being Netflix the winner of the contest. However, according to the author Vanity Fair As a result of the premiere, he had no involvement in the development of the series beyond answering some questions from the production. And I think that’s the same thing. Because Vigilant takes so much creative license that the notion of being based on a true story falters a bit.

Naomi Watts as Nora Brannock and Bobby Cannavale as Dean Brannock in 'Vigilante'.  Cr. Eric Liebowitz/Netflix ©  2022

Naomi Watts as Nora Brannock and Bobby Cannavale as Dean Brannock in ‘Vigilante’. Credit Eric Liebowitz/Netflix © 2022

The house in question exists and is located at 657 Boulevard in Westfield, New Jersey. Built in 1905, it has six bedrooms, four bathrooms, and was purchased by Maria and Derek Broaddus in June 2014 for nearly $1.4 million. However, enthusiasm plummeted when they began receiving threatening letters from someone calling himself ‘the vigilante’. In them, the stalker proclaimed that the house had been the object of his family’s obsession for decades and that since the death of his father, he was in charge of observing it. In the first, he suggested knowing details about the property, such as that it had six rooms and was about to celebrate its 110th anniversary. But in the second he was more specific, addressing the owners by name, including all three children, and in order of birth date. The letters were typed and signed ‘The Watcher’. Faced with the impotence of not knowing who it was, the couple became obsessed with discovering their identity, hiring help and trying to find the person responsible. But they never did.

That is to say, the series maintains the initial premise, the obsession, lack of police help and the hiring of a detective. Also some loose details that appear as the episodes progress, like that they found female DNA in one of the envelopes or that Derek sent letters to the neighbors as a result of his frustration. But everything else is creative license.

Wasn’t there a bloody cult as one of the supposed owners of the house explains in the series? Aren’t the neighbors as bizarre as they seem? Wasn’t there a brutal murder inside the house? Or a nocturnal ghost wandering through a room? Well, let it be known, no. In the history of the house there is no detail that speaks of anything similar, only the name of a neighbor is known who was questioned by the police -Michael Langford- but they did not finish finding anything conclusive.

In turn, the owners who sold the house to the Broaddus later said that they had received a similar letter a few days before confirming the sale. But they didn’t find it threatening and they threw it in the trash. This led to Maria and Derek suing the family for not telling them before the purchase, leading to a countersuit. But the judge dismissed the lawsuit in its entirety.

The big difference in all of this, and the one that ends up blurring the ‘true story’ label, is that the family never moved to 657 Boulevard. They started the renovations soon after they bought it and continued to live elsewhere in the meantime. The four letters they received in total came when they didn’t even live inside. In other words, the moments of terror and suspense that the family lives inside the house would not have happened.

Terry Kinney as Jasper Winslow, Mia Farrow as Pearl Winslow in 'Watchman'.  Cr. Eric Liebowitz/Netflix ©  2022

Terry Kinney as Jasper Winslow, Mia Farrow as Pearl Winslow in ‘Vigilante’. Credit Eric Liebowitz/Netflix © 2022

In the end, less than a year after buying it, the leading family decided to sell it. It was on the market from February 2015 to 2019, with a sale that became more complicated as the case became media coverage. They had to ask relatives for financial help to buy another house to live in, but they did it through a company in order to keep the new location a secret. They came to request permission to demolish it and sell the land in two parts, but the local council did not allow it.

They finally got rid of the house in July 2019, selling it for $959,000 and losing nearly half a million dollars along the way. Very different from the more than three million that the characters in the series say they have paid for it.

That is, no supernatural forces, no blood cults or secret tunnels. While the idea of ​​someone watching your house is terrifying, the true story is far from the science fiction dimensions that Ryan Murphy’s series includes. And it is that instead of telling a true crime true to the case, Vigilant leans more towards the usual stamp of this creator, with moments of terror focused on picturesque secondary characters, leftover narrative arcs, characters that lead nowhere and only function as an aesthetic element. There are many moments that generate disbelief, I would even say annoyance, by taking the plot along paths that do nothing more than stretch the series without getting anywhere.

Anyway, if something works in Vigilant is his attempt to enter the fashion of the whodunit, creating a detective game with the viewer where all the characters are suspects. And, ultimately, it is what most resembles the real story, beyond the obvious central premise, as it is a still unsolved case.

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