One of the scenes in Abducted in Plain Sight that best encapsulates the strangeness of its story comes midway through, after the second time a teenager named Jan Broberg has been kidnapped by a close family friend. That friend, Robert Berchtold, calls Jan’s mother, Mary Ann, and falsely tells her that Jan is prostituting herself and selling drugs. “Oh my goodness,” Mary Ann replies, in a steady, even tone, as if he’s just told her that seasonal allergies might be worse than usual this summer, or that two people brought potato salads to the potluck. “Oh dear. Oh. Now I won’t be able to sleep.”
Abducted in Plain Sight was first released as a documentary in 2017 with the title Forever ‘B,’ but it’s gained rather more traction this month after being added to Netflix’s true-crime library. Over the past week, viral tweets and Reddit threads and various expressions of incomprehension have batted around the internet, as viewers try to make sense of what exactly they’ve just watched. Much of the outrage targets Jan’s parents, who participated fully in the documentary, and whose behavior in response to Berchtold’s prolonged abuse of their daughter strikes many viewers as shockingly inadequate at best. Jan—now Jan Broberg Felt, an actor who’s appeared in Criminal Minds and Everwood—has subsequently defended her mother and father.
Manipulation and grooming are not understood by so many. It happened to my whole family, this man was a master and my parents saved my life. They’re the bravest people I know, willing to try to help the rest of you see what they didn't. That is the only reason we told our story.— Jan Broberg (@janbroberg) February 4, 2019
Part of the problem is that Abducted in Plain Sight, a 90-minute movie in a field populated mostly with six- or eight-hour series, is focused entirely on telling a story rather than illuminating it. It unpacks too many bizarre events in a short time frame to allow for much additional analysis. And the Broberg family, confessional to a fault, are primed more for honesty than for self-inspection. The result is a documentary that exposes them for public scrutiny without pausing to really interrogate their actions.