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American Nightmare review – When tunnel-visioned cops turned victim into criminal

A new three-part documentary examines the case of a home invasion and kidnapping that cops turned on its head and made out to be an elaborate hoax, although a crime did take place

American Nightmare review – When tunnel-visioned cops turned victim into criminal
Denise Huskins, who was at the centre of the alleged hoax kidnapping

Last Updated: 11.18 PM, Jan 17, 2024


Story: In 2015, Denise Huskins and her boyfriend Aaron Quinn were asleep, when someone broke into their home, drugged and tied him up and kidnapped her. When Aaron comes to hours later and is able to remove his restraints, he calls the cops, but far from believing his story, they fixate on the possibility that he’s just deflecting from the actual crime – Aaron has killed Denise.

When Denise then surfaces a few days later, and gives them the exact same account of events and what happened to her, thereafter, it then becomes a cop and media circuit to brand her the real-life Gone Girl, with no attempt to look for the actual perpetrator. It is only a few months later, when a suspect is apprehended in a foiled home invasion in a different jurisdiction that it is revealed that Aaron and Denise had been stating the truth all along. American Nightmare is their version of events.


American Nightmare Review: True crime documentaries are, more often than not, a platform for law enforcement agencies to tom-tom about the ‘meticulous’ fashion in which they went about investigating a case, irrespective of the outcome. So, when you then come across a story in which there was gross failure on the part of law enforcement, you tend to sit up and take note. This can’t be happening, and least of all, in America, you think. Well, it does, and worse still is that but for a break in another case, things could have gone horribly wrong for a young couple, whose pleas for help went unheard.

Netflix’s three-part American Nightmare is a retelling of a 2015 home invasion, the details of which seemed too incredulous to police officials. Aaron Quinn said he was drugged and tied up, while his girlfriend Denise Huskins was also drugged and then kidnapped. There was no sign of forced entry or a struggle and no one in the neighbourhood had seen or heard anything amiss. How could this have been a violent home invasion, when everything points to Aaron having caused physical harm to Denise and gotten rid of her body?

Netflix's new three-part docu-series recounts the real-life story of a California couple at the centre of a home invasion
Netflix's new three-part docu-series recounts the real-life story of a California couple at the centre of a home invasion

Almost nine years after this horrifying experience, Aaron and Denise, sit down to recount how they went from victims to being labelled monsters who faked a home invasion and cost the department a fortune on a hoax investigation in only moments. The cops didn’t buy Aaron’s version of events, and Denise didn’t fare much better with them, even though she said she’d been sexually assaulted. As far as the police was concerned, there were too many loose ends and it just didn’t tie up. And to make matters worse for Aaron and Denise, their claim came too close on the heels of the movie Gone Girl in which Rosamund Pike fakes her own murder and pins it on her husband, who’d cheated on her.

The first episode of American Nightmare focuses on Aaron, and how his attempts to rekindle a romance with an ex-fiancée, a relationship that had not ended well, could have been the reason that Denise goes missing. Episode 2 centres on Denise and the police and media’s attempts to ‘burn’ her, while the last one details how a strand of blonde hair in items recovered from a perp in a crime in a different jurisdiction, finally led everyone to realise that Aaron and Denise had not been lying. Heartening as it is that the couple at the centre of this crime finally got a glimmer of hope and justice, the fact that the officers who failed to respond to their cries for help were never disciplined does feel like a body blow.

American Nightmare Verdict: There is a certain satisfaction in hearing a story from the horse’s mouth and that is what works best in American Nightmare and makes it a compelling watch. What Aaron Quinn and Denise Huskins endured is, no doubt, terrible, and is a reminder that justice may not be what you get when you are a victim of a crime. If a victim of a crime can be made to look like an elaborate con artiste, it does shake your belief in law enforcement


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