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Review: 'Voyeur' Is The Netflix Doc That Will Have You Screaming AT Your Television

By Kristy Puchko | Film | December 13, 2017 | Comments ()

By Kristy Puchko | Film | December 13, 2017 |


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He freely admits to spending years spying on the guests who stayed at his motel, which he personally modified to allow him a Peeping Tom perch above every single bedroom. He rejects the words “creep,” “pervert” and “Peeping Tom.” He’d prefer you call him a “voyeur,” however, he fancies himself a “researcher.” Though he never videotaped his victims, he did create extensive diaries of all the sex, sadness, and even a homicide witnessed while peering through the heating vents. But can you trust the account of a man who claims to have spent years deceiving his clients?

In Netflix’s horrifying documentary Voyeur, directors Myles Kane and Josh Koury follow renowned journalist Gay Talese as he prepares his book about this mysterious man. And Gerald Foos is flush with stranger-than-fiction stories so infuriating and outrageous that you’ll be screaming at your TV.

Foos explains how his big-titted aunt is to blame for his compulsion of spying and “collecting.” Foos brags about his ingenuity in intruding on couples’ most private moments. Foos recounts how a woman was murdered, literally under his watch, and inarguably because of his meddling. Relying heavily on this sole source, Lane and Koury lure us in with the scandalous, the shocking, the repulsive. Then they tug at the snarled knot of his stories, gently unraveling what’s real and what might be just tall tales told by an old man who is desperate to be seen as extraordinary.

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For weeks, I put off watching this doc despite a flurry of press releases in my mailbox. I relish true crime tales, but cringed at giving a Peeping Tom a platform where he might reframe himself as something less perverse. But a recommendation on My Favorite Murder made me to reconsider.

Voyeur leans into our worst fears about this story, initially comparing Foos’s fascination with Talese’s journalism, suggesting both reflect a deep interest in people and story. Before long, this comparison itches, not only for the audience, but also for Foos and Talese. When their reputations are threatened, the pair square off. And as things heat up, the documentarians capture the cracking of both men’s darkly charismatic veneers. And yes, goddamn it, despite each’s gross tendency toward sexist quips and general smugness, each is oddly mesmerizing. It’s clear why they bond, and why they want to trust each other even when that risks self-sabotage. As tensions spike, Talese barks at Kane and Koury, denouncing, “These guys are not even credible journalists, they’re cameramen!” Then things really go off the rails.

Often in film, we’re forced to consider if presenting a terrible thing condones, normalizes, or even glamorizes it. Voyuer knows you’ll have this criticism loaded from the start, and dares to play devil’s advocate just long enough to give Foos enough rope to hang himself. With steamy re-enactments shot through vents and a quaint dollhouse model of the motel, Foos is initially presented as a puppet master. As the audience, we’re invited to step into his perspective and share in his secret perch. But this device ultimately turns against him, reframing him as less powerful and more pitiful. The film pushes us to question the moral ambiguity that the “voyeur” and the journalist debate, and what we can believe of their stories and their motives. Finally, as Foos and Talese battle for control of their forever-knit-together narrative, Voyuer burns through the subterfuge to something sick and satisfying, yet haunting.

I had to go back. I had to watch it again. To see if there was something I missed the first time around amid much cringing and shouting at the screen. The second time, there were the breadcrumbs. A reaction shot by an unnerved female editor here. A storytelling flourish too perfect there. Then one red flag after another. Voila. Voyeur is a perturbing puzzle box presented as a saucy exposé. And it’s an absolute must-see for true crime fans.


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