This is Dr. Bagby with his parents, long before his pointless death.

A warning.

Kenton and/or Cat, if you’re reading this you need to not be reading this. Moreover, I want you to recall Werner Herzog’s advice to that woman in Grizzly Man who got left with the recording of Treadwell and his girlfriend getting mauled. You must never watch this movie. If that isn’t convincing, imagine me saying it with an angelic, fatherly German accent. Rinse/repeat.

Anyway, with that out of the way, let’s talk about one of the most gut-wrenching documentaries you’re ever likely to see. That is, if you have the fortitude to handle how sad, angry, and listless this story stands to make you. You’ll notice that I’m sort of discouraging you here, right? Good. That’s intentional. Dear Zachary is a fucking hard movie to watch. You should know what you’re getting yourself into.

The film is an attempt by Kurt Kuenne to make sense of the death of his best friend, Dr. Andrew Bagby, who was murdered by Dr. Shirley Turner. Turner was pregnant with their child and though she certainly murdered Andrew after they broke up, the pregnancy and her flight to Canada (where she was from) created an odyssey of dysfunction for Bagby’s parents who were forced not only to live in Newfoundland to be near their grandson but also, due to the impotence of the Canadian justice system, forced to make nice with the woman who deprived them of the father.

She seems normal enough but she’s fucking evil.

Through conversations with friends of Andrew’s, the story of his short but evidently good life emerge. As do the circumstances of his death, his relationship to Shirley Turner, and so on. The film is at least half about letting us know just what the fuck it was that happened here. But it also finds a narrative, telling the story of Mr. and Mrs. Bagby as they try to see justice done for Andrew and get more control over his son’s life.

Kurt, who narrates the film, is kind of bland and has a monotone. But you begin to understand that maybe this is a guy who is restraining his emotions a bit as the full punch of the film slowly reveals itself. When he began it, as a gift for baby Zachary, circumstances were very different than they were when he ended it. I won’t spoil it, though, as I’m curious about what others will make of the ending which is not only a shock but a bit of a twist. It’s really a punch in the gut, one that could have been delivered more softly during the setup portion of the doc. I’m not sure whether I agree with the choice to keep this shit at the end but I’ve talked around it long enough. I’m sure it was frustrating and all but wait til you see it.

And you should see it. Unless you just had a baby boy. In which case: avoid. 

By all accounts Andrew was a good guy who had the love of his family and friends and gave it back as often as he could. So fuck is this sad.