In the streaming era, documentaries are facing a difficult battle to capture the attention of viewers with short attention spans, and an abundance of content. "Waco: American Apocalypse," now streaming on Netflix, is an example of heavy-handed filmmaking that attempts to win this battle in the short-term. While many modern documentaries begin with quick-cut, sensational statements that promise excitement, "Waco: American Apocalypse" is a 150-minute trailer with similar emotional investment that urges viewers to watch despite the complex material, tough questions, and expansive grey areas involved in retracing what happened in Waco, Texas, in 1993.

The first episode of "Waco: American Apocalypse" delves into the 51-day standoff between heavily armed cult leader David Koresh, his Branch Davidian followers, and American armed forces. Initially, the standoff began with ATF agents pursuing a warrant for illegal machine guns.

A horrific shootout ensued, resulting in casualties on both sides. For the ATF, it was a shocking surprise about the force and firepower present within the Mount Carmel compound. For Koresh, it was a prophecy. He had been referring to himself as Jesus Christ to his flock of approximately 100 people, and had been preparing them to defend themselves during an apocalypse, which arrived at their doorstep. Multiple accounts, including that of a local reporter present during the shooting, recreate the chaos for the viewer. Director Tiller Russell uses never-before-seen footage to create an immersive experience. However, the filmmaking is somewhat overbearing, with editing and gunshot sound effects. The score is at times heavy-handed, reminiscent of Hans Zimmer motifs, and even the jingle from "The Terminator." The violence is harrowing, but the filmmaking is gross, such as when one woman's childhood self is flashed over her present face as she recounts witnessing someone's death in the compound.

The series aims to chronologically focus on the experience of what happened around the Mount Carmel compound. However, it seems to have skipped an episode in purporting to cover both sides of the standoff. Branch Davidians like Kathy Schroeder, a mother whose children were released early, and David Thibodeau, who stayed until the fiery end, are interviewed but are given little time to expl

ain how they ended up there, why they so desperately wanted to stay, or how they were able to survive as long as they did in Mount Carmel. This feeling becomes more pronounced when a producer plays for former Branch Davidian Heather Jones the last phone call with her father, who died in the compound. The scene would have been more powerful if its sole purpose weren't just to see her tear up; her consent to listening to the recording doesn't make the extraneous plot beat any less cheap. Koresh's ascent to power, including manipulating a cult that had been in place since 1955 and which later helped him sexually abuse children, is also treated in a cursory manner.

The men who represented the flawed law and order within "Waco: American Apocalypse" are also a fascinating aspect. From the bungled ATF raid to the FBI's prolonged and violent siege, the series makes clear that they were woefully unprepared to handle the situation. They lacked both knowledge of and empathy for the Branch Davidians, whose religious beliefs they found bizarre and misguided. The series doesn't shy away from the fact that their actions led to the deaths of innocent children and adults. Overall, "Waco: American Apocalypse" is a mixed bag. It's a gripping, if overlong, account of one of the most notorious events in recent American history, but it's marred by its own self-importance and often manipulative filmmaking.

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