Matthew Muller American Nightmare
Matthew Muller pictured in American Nightmare. Credit: Netflix

Netflix’s explosive new true-crime docuseries American Nightmare tells the harrowing true story of how young couple Denise Huskins and Aaron Quinn were abducted by a group of mysterious men wearing scuba diving outfits in 2015.

One of those men was later identified as Matthew Muller, a former lawyer and Harvard alum. In 2022, he was convicted of forcibly raping Huskins during the days he held her captive, and was sentenced to 31 years in prison.

Huskins and Quinn both tell their stories in wrenching interviews shown in the three-episode docuseries. But although it gives some necessary background on Muller, we don’t hear directly from him or see an interview with him from prison, where he currently resides. Muller’s attorney did not immediately respond to MovieMaker‘s request for comment.

That’s because directors Bernadette Higgins and Felicity Morris — the same team behind Netflix’s other popular true crime doc The Tindler Swindler — are not at all interested in giving him the spotlight.

American Murderer Directors Kept the Spotlight Off Matthew Muller

“It certainly wasn’t ever about fetishizing Matthew Muller,” Higgins told MovieMaker in an interview prior to American Nightmare‘s release on Netflix this Tuesday.

“We decided very early on that we didn’t want to give him any kind of platform. It wasn’t his story.”

Higgins acknowledges that there are several ways to approach telling any story.

“One of them could have been to really dig into Matthew Muller. Why would he do this? He’s this a Harvard educated lawyer. What was in his background?” she said.

But it was her and Morris’ intent to only give Muller as much screen time as was necessary in order to give context to the larger narrative — Denise and Aaron’s story of survival.

“We’re not interested in giving that kind of platform to perpetrators. We think it’s really important that victims are the people that are heard, they’re the people who are the most affected by this. And also, when you’re dealing with people like Matthew — and we saw that from the letters that he sent The San Francisco Chronicle and everything else — he wanted the attention,” she said.

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“He was almost angry that he wasn’t getting credit for what he’d done when they were calling Denise a hoaxer. So it would have played absolutely into his hands for us to have a whole episode on him, and who is Matthew Muller, and why did he do this? And we just, we didn’t want to give him that space. He didn’t deserve it.”

At the time of this interview, the directors weren’t sure whether Muller even knew that he was about to be featured in a Netflix docuseries.

“He’ll probably be thrilled when he hears about it, unfortunately,” Higgins said.

Higgins and Morris were much more interested in spreading the word about Denise and Aaron’s experience to those who may never have heard their true story. When the kindapping happened in 2015, countless media reports that accused Denise and Aaron of making up the entire ordeal went viral.

“Their story was hijacked. It was hijacked by the police, and then it was hijacked by the media. And it was a huge story in the area at the time when she was called a hoaxer, but a much smaller story when they were vindicated,” Morris said. “There’ll be a lot of people who knew about the story at the time and still think they were hoaxers. So this was all about Denise and Aaron finally having their moment and the space to say this is what happened to us — bare witness to what happened to us.”

Today, Denise and Aaron are married and have a daughter together. At the heart of American Nightmare is a quest towards healing — and that requires extreme care from the filmmakers, Morris explained.

“There’s no doubt that this is an unbelievably sensitive story to tell. Bernie and I had so many conversations about that very, very fine line of making a kind of cinematic and entertaining series, but also never crossing that line. Especially with Denise’s story, sexual assault is such a difficult and delicate subject. And the last thing that we wanted to do was use it as a kind of an exploitative crutch,” she said. “We never wanted to undermined the kind of the gravity of the subject or do a disservice to Denise and the trauma that she went through.”

American Nightmare begins streaming Tuesday on Netflix.

Main Image: Matthew Muller pictured in American Nightmare courtesy of Netflix.