Producers: Chris Kobin and Rachel Morgan   Director: Jan Sonnenmair   Cast: Sharyn Babbitt, Scott Barber, Nusheen Bakhtiar, Octavio Choi, Don Corey, Adolfo Cuellar, Dontay Davis, Nathaniel Davis, Dana Dekalb, Krista Herring, Shonda Jones, Zipporah Lomax, Brittini New, Amanda Price, Jennifer Price, Tammy Scheurich, Riannah Weaver and Christopher Worth   Distributor: 1091 Media

Grade: B

When an SUV carrying Jen and Sarah Hart and their six adopted children drove through an embankment on a high California bridge on March 26, 2018 and tumbled onto a beach far below, killing the entire family, the tragedy earned national headlines. Grief over the loss turned to anger, however, when official investigations concluded that what had initially been taken for a horrible accident was declared a murder-suicide: Jen, who had been driving, was over the legal alcohol limit at the time, and her wife Sarah and two of the children were under the influence of antihistamines.  A survey of Sarah’s internet searches, moreover, indicated planning and intent behind the catastrophe. 

Emotions were further inflamed by revelations about the family’s dynamics.  Despite web postings that showed a harmonious, loving group (a photo of Devonte, the most gregarious of the children, hugging a white police officer in the wake of the 2014 killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, went viral), allegations of abuse involving the children—three of whom had been adopted in 2006 and the others in 2008—stretched back for years in several states where the Harts had resided. 

The most recent concerns had been raised by Bruce and Dana DeKalb, neighbors of the Harts in Woodland, Washington, who reported to CPS that two of the children had visited them complaining of mistreatment and asking for food.  An investigation of the charges was ongoing when the crash occurred. 

The Hart family murder-suicide has been covered extensively in the media, but this film analyzes the tragedy in a sensitive and balanced fashion, employing a wide array of archival material and extensive interviews with friends of the couple who saw few signs of family disharmony, others who suspected that something was wrong in the household (Dana DeKalb among them), officials and therapists; even the biological parents and step-brother of three of the children are included. 

Smoothly shot by Jon Meyer and edited by Ethan Derner, the film resembles a solid episode of one of those “true crime” television programs that fill the airwaves nowadays, and like the best of them it provides a fascinating window into an event that may never be fully explicable but merits investigation as an example of what human beings, in all their hopes and frailties, are capable of.