This article addresses the real life events behind American Nightmare and Unbelievable.
A young woman is assaulted by a brazen home invader. The police don’t believe the crime occurred and accuse the woman of lying for attention. Later on, the home invader strikes again, confirming that the story was true all along.
The above summary describes the real life experience of Denise Huskins as recounted in Netflix’s latest docuseries, American Nightmare. In 2015, Huskins and her boyfriend Aaron Quinn were attacked and drugged in their home by an intruder. Denise would then be kidnapped by the masked man, raped by him twice, and released back home to a world where police just couldn’t buy her version of events, true as they were.
It just so happens that the above summary also describes 2019 Netflix miniseries Unbelievable. And that’s why it needs to be added to your queue the moment American Nightmare‘s third and final episode concludes. Unbelievable is a perfect companion piece to American Nightmare. It will turn the natural question of “how could this have happened?” into “how could this have happened again?”
Here is everything you need to know about Netflix’s first examination of a crime that was literally unbelievable but literally real.
Why You Should Watch Unbelievable
Unbelievable is among the most aptly-named TV shows of all time. It’s all about people’s inability to believe sex crime narratives that deviate even slightly from their expectations … just as we saw in American Nightmare.
The eight-episode limited series delves into the story of Marie Adler (Kaitlyn Dever), a former foster care child in Washington who experiences a home invasion and rape and attempts to the report the crime to the police. Due to Adler’s troubled past, poor police training, lack of immediately observable evidence, and a heaping load of bias, the investigating detectives don’t believe Marie. Dangling the threat of a false report charge, they pressure Marie into recanting her story.
Later on, two Colorado detectives Grace Rasmussen (Toni Collette) and Karen Duvall (Merritt Wever) investigate a sexual assault case in their jurisdiction that has similarities to Marie’s experience. The two stories eventually intersect.
Unbelievable is both a thrilling and challenging watch. The first episode plays out like a horror movie, examining an antiquated and inhumane sexual assault reporting process from the victim’s perspective. By the time the decidedly more empathetic and competent Colorado detective duo enters the proceedings, the show transforms into an engaging crime drama … all the while never losing sight of Marie’s plight.
Like American Nightmare, something vaguely resembling justice is available at the end of Unbelievable, there to be enjoyed by viewers willing to make it through. In addition to the series’ gripping subject matter, the performances are uniformly excellent. Dever (to be seen next in a crucial role on The Last of Us season 2) puts in career-best work. Wever and Collette deserve their own season of True Detective.
Unbelievable is Based on a True Story Too
As you may have guessed by now, Unbelievable is indeed based on a true story. Known as the “Washington and Colorado serial rape cases,” these crimes were perpetuated by Marc Patrick O’Leary in the suburbs around Seattle and Denver from 2008 to 2011. Like American Nightmare‘s Matthew Muller, O’Leary was an Army veteran and his modus operandi was so bold that police would rather believe that an innocent woman was lying than confront the real monster on their hands.
The story of one of O’Leary’s victims, pseudonymously known as “Marie,” was recounted in the Pulitzer-prize winning feature for ProPublica and The Marshall Project called “An Unbelievable Story of Rape.” Interestingly enough, that feature was published in 2015 – the same year that police first heard and disbelieved Denis Huskins’ story.
Where You Can Watch Unbelievable
Unbelievable is available to stream on Netflix in both the U.S. and U.K. just like American Nightmare. Unbelievable is also a Netflix original that was nominated for several Emmy awards and won a Peabody, so it is unlikely to be booted from the streamer’s servers anytime soon.