American Wisper (2020)

One of the things I really like about Russ Emanuel’s direction is that he’s able to conceive a true crime movie that feels respectful and not at all exploitative. That’s a tough feat to accomplish especially in a time where a lot of indie studios are inexplicably anxious to exploit actual horrible crimes. “American Wisper” (formerly “Wisper”) is a true crime thriller that actually managed to engage me, and that’s saying a lot for someone that almost never cares to dive in to this kind of material.

“American Wisper” is based on the true story of the 2016 unsolved murders of an upper-class African American family. Three children and their mother were found shot to death in their large New Jersey home close to NYC, and were discovered by father and husband Josiah Wisper. Wisper immediately is the prime suspect in the case as “A Person of Interest” and comes under fire and scrutiny by authorities. Ruled out as a suspect by police and law enforcement officials — but never in the eyes of those in the Harlem community – his relatives, friends, and people he knows, even as he struggles to find out who was behind the heinous murders.

Director Emanuel switches between found footage and live action to not only explore the horrendous murders of the Wisper family, but Josiah Wisper as well. It should be noted that Christian Barber’s performance is stellar and he provides a wonderful turn as a man who is cunning, and clever, but kind of despicable. He’s trying to live the American dream, but everywhere he turns he’s confronted with people that hate him or want what he has. Barber is able to inject so much nuance and depth to Josiah Wisper, and we get a glimpse in to what he wants and what he’s truly capable of. Barber’ performance might strain any and all sympathy or empathy that audiences might have in his favor, but that’s seemingly the intent.

Wisper had almost every motive to murder his family, but when pushed in to a corner it remains incredibly uncertain. I’m admittedly not too keen on the details of the murders of the Wisper family, but there are a lot of potential suspects presented, and no real resolution of suspicions confirmed. This works against “American Wisper” sadly, as there’s just not enough exploration in to potential suspects, and what could have driven them to murder this poor family, in the end. We’re not given a ton of insight either, which makes the film feel like it’s rushing to the climax. Overall, if you like true crime thrillers, “American Wisper” is a solid dissection of a horrendous crime, and Christian Barber’s performance deserves to be seen.