I will confess that I was unfamiliar with the Monfils murder case prior to sitting down with Michael Neelsen's compelling feature documentary Beyond Human Nature, a deep dive into the complicated case of one Green Bay, Wisconsin man's murder and the six co-workers who were convicted of it.
Picked up by indie distributor 1091 Pictures, Beyond Human Nature is an effective documentary for a couple of key reasons. First, Neelsen doesn't spoon-feed his audience his interpretation of what exactly happened to Monfils but instead he approaches the story with equal parts skepticism and curiosity. It's as if he surrenders to the ambiguity of it all. Secondly, Neelsen takes this relatively unfamiliar true crime and makes it feel personal and familiar. I may not have heard about the Monfils case prior to watching Beyond Human Nature, but by the time the closing credits were rolling I found myself wanting to learn even more about it.
The "crime," and there are those who believe no crime occurred, happened on November 22, 1992 when Monfils' body was found at the bottom of a pulp vat. According to police, there was never any doubt it was a homicide and police would end up arresting six of his co-workers for the crime allegedly perpetrated because Monfils had reportedly told police that one of the six, Keith Kutska, had been stealing electrical wire from the mill.
There were, as noted, those who questioned the story and believed his death to be a suicide reportedly triggered by police accidentally releasing an audio recording of Monfils' accusations to his co-workers. While police dismissed this theory, even Monfils' own brother is on record as believing it.
So, yeah, the Monfils case is a complicated one despite the fact that all six co-workers were convicted of the crime. Of the six, only Kutska remains in prison. He's eligible for parole this year, though has previously been denied. Of the six, Mike Piaskowski had his conviction over turned in 2001. Three others served their full sentences and one died in prison.
Beyond Human Nature is both a matter-of-fact doc and a surprisingly suspenseful one. There was little doubt in my mind what had happened until the film's final 30 minutes or so when new revelations are made and seeds of doubt planted. Indeed, part of the mastery of Beyond Human Nature is that it's as much about the ambiguity and uncertainty of the justice system as it is actually about the Monfils case. There's a sadness, really, throughout the film and a sense of overwhelm with the surprising uncertainty that follows the case even when the facts, at least on some level, seem obvious.
A Milwaukee-based filmmaker, Neelsen has crafted a deeply engaging and immersive feature documentary that expertly examines how the legal system works and, well, how the legal system doesn't work. It's a captivating film from beginning to end and the kind of documentary that will lead you into doing an internet deep-dive wanting to learn everything you can about the case. Original music by Alexander Valdes complements the film quite nicely and lensing by Michael Nie is atmospheric and captures the drama of the story without exploiting it.
Currently availabla via most major streaming platforms, Beyond Human Nature is a must-see for fans of true crime documentaries.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic