UNDERCURRENT: THE DISAPPEARANCE OF KIM WALL on HBO is a new true-crime docu-series. With just two 60-minute episodes, it’s a quick watch. Unfortunately, it’s quite underwhelming. Read our Undercurrent: The Disappearance of Kim Wall review here!
UNDERCURRENT: THE DISAPPEARANCE OF KIM WALL is a new two-part HBO true crime docu-series. Usually, HBO documentaries are pretty (if not very) good, but this one did not impress me. Of course, it should be taken into consideration that this case took place in Denmark and I am Danish.
In other words, I was able to follow this case in real-time as it unfolded and remember it quite vividly. However, this documentary was made by an American documentary filmmaker, so I’m sure this wasn’t made for the Scandinavian audience. Still, no matter where you are in the world, the facts are still facts.
And I have to say we’re off to a bad start with the title itself. Because, despite her name being in the title (and possible good intentions), the focus of this HBO docu-series is not Kim Wall. It is, as it’s almost always the case, solidly on the perpetrator.
Continue reading our Undercurrent: The Disappearance of Kim Wall review below and find the two 60-minute episodes on HBO from 9 PM CET on March 8, 2022.
Just not good enough!
Undercurrent: The Disappearance of Kim Wall is a murky rendition of the event. To be blunt, there is quite a lot wrong with this documentary. Again, international viewers probably won’t catch on to this, but I imagine Danish (and Swedish) viewers will.
Let’s start with the actual title: Kim Wall was never a “disappearance” case. She left on assignment as a journalist to interview a man in a homemade submarine. The man she interviewed returned alone, after having been gone all night at sea. He was arrested upon his return because the police knew something was wrong from the get-go.
Logic follows that the title should have been “The Murder of Kim Wall”. This was a murder case from Day 1. Anything else makes this true-crime case sound like something along the lines of the Madeleine McCann case. The small girl who disappeared while on vacation with her parents and, to this day, has not been found.
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You might think that the title is a small thing. However, the title is also an active decision and sets the tone for the subject of the documentary. Or, it should. For this HBO documentary, there isn’t much focus on Kim Wall or the fact that she “disappeared”. Instead, we’re getting phone interviews with Peter Madsen and hearing from his friends and colleagues.
Also, we do get interviews with a few of Kim Wall’s friends. None of her family participated in this docu-series (only indirectly through public appearances), which should tell you something. Especially since her parents did participate in the making of a Danish series based on this case. It was called The Investigation and can also be found on HBO Max (read our review here).
It was mom’s fault
Anyone outside of Denmark will also have no chance of recognizing some of the factual errors. Or, at best, questionable statements. Like the fact that Peter Madsen is compared to Elon Musk without much contradiction or follow-up. However, I can tell you that this comparison is way off.
Peter Madsen is also referred to as an “entrepreneur” in much of the PR material. In reality, he’s more of a “mad inventor” type of person. Something he is also called in the actual documentary. Well, “inventor”, that is. In fact, we do get a lot of background information on Peter Madsen.
Like the fact that he appeared to hate his mother, and that his hatred of women stemmed from this. In other words: It was mom’s fault.
With Undercurrent: The Disappearance of Kim Wall we also go through the usual song and dance of hearing from the men who knew Peter Madsen. You already know how it goes because it’s the same thing we hear every time a man brutally kills a woman: “Oh, but he was such a nice guy”. Then we get a bit deeper to “Sure, he was a narcissist” and then “He did have a terrible temper”.
Fortunately, a few of the women who saw the darker (or stranger) side of Peter Madsen are also interviewed. They are anonymous and I understand completely!
Also, there are interviews with a few of the investigators working on the case (with recovering the submarine and body of Kim Wall). They never believed a word of the many different stories Peter Madsen came up with to try and get away with murder.
The amazing Ditte Dyreborg
Small side note here, but I know people will be looking to know more about the amazing naval officer, Ditte Dyreborg, who has quite an interesting story herself. In Undercurrent: The Disappearance of Kim Wall, Ditte Dyreborg is interviewed because she took part in the investigation. Primarily regarding forensic evidence found in the submarine and as a submarine expert.
Ditte Dyreborg herself has one hell of a story. She was born intersex (formerly called “hermaphrodite”), but when she was born, parents – guided by doctors – tended to simply choose a gender for their child. Ditte’s parents chose male, which turned out to not suit her at all, so she changed it later on. She is also fighting to end having parents and doctors “choose a gender” for intersex children.
Now that is a documentary, I’d like to watch. When you see Ditte Dyreborg interviewed in this HBO documentary, you’ll understand why. Her energy and (appropriate) sassiness is spot-on.
Forgetting its subject – again and again
Episode 1 is titled “Crime” and, yet again, there’s a mismatch. If this was a disappearance case (as the title of this docu-series indicates), then there isn’t necessarily a crime. However, we all know that this is a murder case, so it does fit the actual case. Episode 2 is “Punishment”. However, that seems mostly to have the episode titles be “Crime” and “Punishment”.
The second episode opens with Kim’s friends talking about the importance of her being more than “just” a victim. We get a very wonderful and telling anecdote from Kim Wall’s life afterward. And then bam, we’re back on Peter Madsen. According to Undercurrent, Kim Wall practically came to life when she went to journalism school in New York.
Peter Madsen, on the other hand, we get to hear about his childhood and his much older and abusive father. Once again, we get in-depth looks at his life and past. Rather strange for a documentary that is supposedly about Kim Wall. The ending of episode 2 (and the series) does go back to looking at Kim Wall. Mostly through public appearances of her parents and not much more.
You can watch Undercurrent: The Disappearance of Kim Wall on HBO Max
Undercurrent: The Disappearance of Kim Wall was directed and produced by Emmy-nominated filmmaker Erin Lee Carr. She previously created several well-crafted true crime HBO documentaries such as I Love You, Now Die: The Commonwealth V. Michelle Carter (2019) and Mommy Dead and Dearest (2017). The latter case was also turned into the limited series The Act (Hulu).
I love true-crime documentaries and docu-series, but they must be done right and with the utmost respect for the victim. As a Dane, I might be too close to this case, but that does not change facts nor the angle chosen by the documentary filmmaker.
Personally, I find it rather sad that the friends of Kim Wall, who are interviewed for this HBO docu-series, clearly think she is the core subject. Not just as a victim, but as a person. For me, that was not the case with this documentary.
Honestly, I found The Investigation limited series, which was about this same case and never mentioned the name Peter Madsen, to be much better than this docu-series. Especially because it showed more respect for Kim Wall (and disdain for the actual sadistic murderer).
The fact that Kim Wall’s parents took part in the creation of that series and not this docu-series speaks volumes. When you see the final result, you can understand why!
Undercurrent: The Disappearance of Kim Wall will be aired on HBO on March 8, 2022, at 9 PM CET.
The accomplished journalist Kim Wall tragically went missing in 2017. Wall was last seen just prior to interviewing the eccentric entrepreneur Peter Madsen aboard his self-made submarine in Danish waters. Madsen changes his story multiple times during the course of a police investigation that ultimately uncovers the truth: Wall was murdered on the submarine. Madsen is soon put on trial, and a judge is tasked with determining what actually happened on the vessel.
The documentary weaves together trial testimony, expert opinion, never-heard-before audio from Madsen himself, key new interviews with those who knew Wall and Madsen, and includes commentary from a range of officers, scientists, and journalists close to the case.