The Anthrax Attacks: In the Shadow of 9/11 (2022) Netflix Movie Review

A grim retelling of a scary period of time in US history

There is perhaps nothing more scary in this world than an invisible killer. No, I’m not talking about a ghost slasher but rather a virus. In the case of The Anthrax Attacks, the biological weapon of choice happens to be (yep, you guessed it!) Anthrax. Days after the events of 9/11, the US was whipped up in another terrorist frenzy, this time stemming from fatal anthrax spores being sent in the mail to various different figureheads in positions of power. Across this 90 minute documentary, Anthrax Attacks breaks down the events from the first letter being sent, up to the point where the investigation was formally closed by the FBI.

Developed by Oscar-nominated director Dan Krauss, Anthrax Attacks takes on a rather unconventional and experimental style, which has both its pros and cons. On the one hand, this is a detailed account of what happened at the time, complete with plenty of talking head interviews and archival footage. On the other hand, there’s a lot of re-enactment scenes that almost counter-balance that documentary style. Suffice to say, this is going to be a polarizing style.

The film begins with the aforementioned Anthrax letters being sent. It’s quickly revealed that these passed through the Brentwood postal facility and subsequently infected unknowing workers there. There’s an underlying theme about the rich getting preferential treatment compared to the poor, especially when it’s found out the facility wasn’t safe and had been running for 10 days after the known outbreak. This subplot is interwoven around the FBI investigation, which soon reveals itself to be the most expensive in their history… and one of the more controversial too.

With very few suspects to go on, the FBI flit back and forth between Dr Bruce Ivins, an eccentric virologist, and Steve Hatfill, who’s quickly presented as a sacrificial lamb and a patsy for the FBI to try and quell the scrutinous media eye on them. All of this is pretty interesting and raises that itch to find out exactly who is responsible for this heinous crime.

Around all of this docu-style presentation though are a number of re-enactment scenes involving Dr Bruce Ivins. We’re told early on that the FBI interviews have been re-enacted using their notes, but late on the documentary cycles back to this and feels a little too glossy and over-stylized as a result. We get echoing soundbites, extreme close ups and other filming techniques you’d associate with a dramatic thriller.

As this is anything but a fictional thriller, the film does feel like it struggles at times to bridge the gap between those two states. However, there are other moments where it works quite well, especially when it’s interwoven around the music. Hats off to the audio team for this one; the sound design in this film is absolutely exemplary from start to finish.

The Anthrax Attacks is a grim retelling of a scary period of time in US history. While the jumps between re-enactments and documentary style doesn’t always mesh that well, there’s enough here to sink your teeth into all the same. This is a solid, sobering look at a horrible attack and the bungled investigation that followed. Netflix deliver another solid documentary to add to their illustrious catalogue.

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  • Verdict - 7/10

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