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31 Things Wrong with CHRIS WATTS CONFESSIONS OF A KILLER – Review and Analysis [UPDATED]

First off, I didn’t share the Westword reporter’s view that the filmmakers blamed Thrive. To be honest, although this was depicted a few times, my impression is that the reporter was trying to gain traction for a story on a sensational angle. The Strive aspect is very secondary, very much in the background of this story. If you’re new to the Watts case, then maybe noticing Shan’ann’s promotional activity, which is dramatized occasionally, is going to seem like a big thing. It isn’t. In fact, it’s hard to say what the big thing is this film is trying to point out.

The main message of the film seems to be to say that everything we know about Watts, and what he did, is kinda fuzzy. That’s not a contribution to the lore surrounding to this case, it’s a weak concession, and a cop-out. It’s almost like the filmmakers said: look, we don’t know what happened here, nobody does, so let’s not try. Let’s just stick with his version, depict that and make the story about the version no one believes. Let them try to figure out what really happened – that’s not our job.

As a narrator, I found the narrative of the Lifetime movie messy, disorienting and chaotic. It’s not chronological, it’s not clear, and overall, as mentioned above, the film pays homage to Chris Watts first version, with only a passing interest in forensic accuracy. No surprises there. From a true crime perspective, Lifetime movies are the last place to want to find a documentary-style criminal investigation.

The value in dramatizations in Lifetime fare lies in:

1) Depictions of family dynamics, characters and interrelationships

2) Reenactments of the crime scene

The movie opens with out-of-focus footage of the child actors playing Bella and Celeste running through a garden, and laughing, while news coverage of the disappearance provides a kind of voiceover narration. Emphasized in this montage:

“They seemed like a normal family.”

Then there’s a close-up of the side of Watts’ eye, and a clip of his sandaled foot under a table jigging up and down. Watts is restless, agitated. Something is going on in his head.

Then the voiceover shifts to Shan’ann’s voice, doing a Thrive promo:

“You have to set an example for your kids…so take that leap of faith.”

You hear a child’s voice echoeing her words in the background, and Shan’ann laughs with delight. This feels a little like that 30-minute Thrive spiel on that Saturday morning in May with the whole family present.


This is all meant to show Chris Watts remembering them.And he’s remembering them, as I said, from the inside of the interrogation cubicle.

I found the opening montage fuzzy and disorientating. A poor start, in other words.

In fact, throughout the whole film there is very little footage of the children. For the most part they’re excluded or left out or there’s a blurry allusion to them. Besides Bella singing “My daddy is a hero…” in the car with Celeste beside her, and a brief clip of the children crying softly in the truck on the way to the well site, there’s virtually no dialogue from the children. And [spoiler warning] there are no dramatized scenes of the children on the driveway, getting into the truck, or of anything that happened at CERVI 319 on the morning of August 13th.

From a legal perspective, the narrative device seems quite clever, and probably impressed the producers at the pitch meeting for this film. “We’ll tell this story through Watts himself, giving the backstory to his own story during his polygraph test.”

In the discovery, there is a very extensive backstory from Watts himself in the pretesting phase, starting on page 581 and concluding 15 pages later on page 596.

“Then at the very end, we’ll provide the twist of the Second Confession to show you really can’t know someone, or whether what they say is true.” And so that’s how it’s done. Most of the film is from Watts’ perspective, and most of that perspective comes from 15 pages of the outdated discovery relating to the First Confession.

If you’ve found the first section of this analysis messy, disjointed and disorienting, that’s how the first two-minutes feel. It takes a while for the chronology of the story to settle down, and although it has its moments, the whole film is ultimately a mishmash of scenes and flashbacks with very little in the area of authentic moments. One seldom has an aha-moment where it feels like anyone’s character is addressed, and that’s the main problem. There’s no character-building. No arc. No real story to speak of. It turns out the fuzzy memory of the children in the garden is from Watts’ head as he sits in the interrogation cubicle waiting for Tammy Lee to enter to do the polygraph test.


One of the best parts of the film is the movie title. The graphic design does a nice job in showing the two faces of Chris Watts, and how the two faces don’t line up. Skillfully represented.

The whole film basically cuts back and forth to Watts “remembering” the events leading up to the murders while he’s being questioned by Tammy Lee. In other words, 90% of the film is based on the First Confession.

The actor playing Agent Coder also plays a very, very secondary role to Tammy Lee [acted by the same woman who played the victim in the pit in The Silence of the Lambs].

After the title image, the scene reverts to Watts doing his infamous Sermon on the Porch. While he’s talking, dogs bark in the background. Not bad. Same setting, same words, same clothing, same basic body language. Even the actor appears less nonchalant than Watts did during his Sermon on the Porch. Even though he’s acting and didn’t commit triple murder, this is an irony in itself

Once done with the interview, we something we haven’t seen before. Watts walks into the door and sits on the staircase. He’s alone. He sits there for some time. We see the light moving through the windows beside the front door, showing the movement of time. Cut back to the interrogation cubicle, and Watts is introduced to Tammy Lee, who let’s him know what he’s in for if she chooses to lie to him during the polygraph.

It’s at this point that the chronology starts to settle down into something slightly resembling a narrative.

Now let’s deal with the mistakes.


#1 Heaviness in the pregnancy announcement is missing.

Deeter is in the room, and at Watts’ feet when Shan’ann announces she’s pregnant. She’s wearing the right shirt, and he’s dressed the right way too. But this was the first sign of the filmmaker’s poor intuitive grasp of the subject material. Not only is the venue in the house wrong for where the spiel was recorded, Chris Watts appears genuinely excited and genuinely happy about the pregnancy, far more so than the real Watts did. The actor does a convincing scene, appearing enthusiastic about his movie-wife’s fictitious pregnancy. What was needed was for the heaviness in the dramatized Sermon of the Porch to be more manifest here, and for the nonchalance and lightness here, to be more evident in the Sermon on the Porch. Where the fake Watts says, “I guess, I guess when you want it it happens, ” there’s no trace of the awkward Chris Watts. Instead, it seems natural and even charming when acted out by this actor.

#2 Watts at the well site.

A lot is crammed into this scene. Watts describes his weight loss, and exhorts his co-worker to contact his wife and start Thriving. He loses his ring and his co-worker, retrieving it, says, “Forgot something?” His co-worker also mentions “Nikki” in the context of safety, and hands Watts a gift card to treat his wife. Watts also mentions his wife being pregnant and hoping for a boy [an aspect supposedly kept secret from everyone at work except his boss]. In this scene Watts appears way too balanced, confident and chatty.  Gift cards at Anadarko [which is never named in this film, and the well site and four white tanks are nothing like CERVI 319] are not allocated as actual gifts or favors, but are earned as a result of achieving safety milestones.

#3 Nichol Kessinger gives Watts her card.

Shan’ann meets Nickole, is on her phone most of the time. Leaves for North Carolina in the middle of the day.

We see Watts turning to face his house and the camera zooms in, making the house loom over him and swallow him up. This is arguably the best scene the film.

The way the story is staged is the moment after Shan’ann leaves and Watts is left alone, he meets Nichol Kessinger and things happen instantly.

#4 Chris Watts is home alone watching porn.


#5 He’s bored, so he calls up Nichol Kessinger.

#6 And they meet up in a wooded area.

#7 Where she finds out he’s a dad, and he’s married – but still wants to see him.


#8 “I’m out with the guys.” Watts hangs up on Shan’ann.


#9″Come here.” The assertive Watts ravishes his mistress in the backroom of a restaurant.


#10 “Are you judging me?” “Yes, I’m judging you!”


It just doesn’t sound like Watts, does it?

Note the sleep mask dangling from the bed post in the background.

#11 Visit to the Watts Home – minus Cindy, and minus Nut Gate.

#12 A distressed Shan’ann calls Watts to say…she doesn’t want the kids sleeping over at his folks.

She doesn’t say why.

#13 Deeter Gate – minus Deeter.

Nichol visits the Watts home. She doesn’t go unstairs and Deeter is nowhere in sight. She says, “Why would you want to leave all of this,” and then, in tears, asks Watts to take her home.

#14 Nichol Kessinger stalking Chris Watts’ Facebook page.

Not Shan’ann’s?

Does she know Shan’ann’s pregnant?

#15 Watts reconciles with Kessinger by picking her some yellow wildflowers.

#16 They go camping next to a lake, and after Googling when to say I love you, he tells her he loves her.

Watts Googled when to say I love you on July 25th, but only went camping a few days later.


#17 Watts heads to North Carolina – but they don’t meet at the airport…

As they did in real life…

“When Chris Watts caught up to her, Bella was screaming at the top of her lungs…” [Discovery Documents, page 681]

And incidentally, when Shan’ann and the kids left for North Carolina, Watts took her to the airport.


Instead of saying goodbye in the road, in front of the house.

Watts also gave Kessinger this card on their last day together in Colorado, before he left for North Carolina.


Their argument about airport parking isn’t depicted either. But Watts is depicted as standoffish.

They got the shirt color right for his arrival in North Carolina.


#18 Shan’ann tells Watts she’s “spotting”…on a pier…

When it was actually communicated via text on the afternoon of August 5th, 2018, the day prior to Watts visit with his folks in Spring Lake [without his wife and children, on their last full day in North Carolina].

#19 The scene dramatized at Myrtle Beach shows the kids flying a kite…

Shan’ann looks concerned, as if she’s cottoned on to Watts not being fully himself with her.

But it’s not quite the version we saw on social media…Watts Family at Myrtle Beach, August 2018 and the Tension is Palpable [VIDEO]

We don’t see the scene at the bungee trampoline either.

#20 During an argument back in Colorado, Watts decides they should take a trip [to Aspen] to mend their relationship.

And then Shan’ann leaves for Arizona. Although technically true, they did make plans for a couple’s weekend away in place of the gender reveal party, it was Shan’ann pushing for couple’s counselling, and as the dominant force in the relationship, it seems unlikely he would suggest this.

#21 There are no windows in the garage used in the Lifetime movie.

Because that’s how Nickolas was able to see inside, see Shan’ann’s car and car seats and know something was wrong.

Analysis of the blinds of Chris Watts’ Home

#22 Watts doesn’t close the door of the Lexus after entering the garage.

He leaves it open. It’s an obstruction.

Officer Coonrod’s Bodycam appears to show Watts tucking something under his arm…

Officer Coonrod’s Bodycam appears to show Watts retrieving something…in the garage [UPDATE]

#23 Inside the house Watts walks to the kitchen…and stays there.

Lifetime shows him glance into the pantry.

In reality, as soon as Coonrod reaches the kitchen, Watts scoots around him and walks quickly to retrieve Deeter from the basement. Why is Deeter in the basement? No one thinks to ask, but this ought to have put suspicion on Watts early on, and in retrospect, also shows premeditation and post meditation.

Excellent Footage of the Moment Officer Coonrod Arrives on the Scene at 2825 Saratoga Trail

#24 Chris Watts depicted as awkward as he views Trinastich surveillance video.

This is where the Lifetime movie Chris Watts jarrs. It’s not that his depiction isn’t true to life, it is, what’s wrong is this moment doesn’t fit with the cool, sauve, charming Watts the actor has portrayed until this moment. He’s left something out of the character and now, here, it’s too late to fill in those gaps, or figure out who Watts really is.

I guess he’s just an enigma right, and no one will ever know?

Or a narcissist?

Well, no. We know exactly what sort of personality-type he is.

But the actor just doesn’t get Watts as an introvert.

It’s not really clear what aspect he was trying to portray – perhaps narcissism. How do you portray narcissism that’s different to everyone else?

#25 Next we’re back to the Interrogation Cubicle, but Watts is sitting in the wrong place.

#26 And the scene of Watts confessing to his father…well…believe it or not it’s not actually depicted.

But at least they got Ronnie’s shirt color right, and Watts is also wearing the right clothes too.

Incredibly, there’s no depicting here of arguably the biggest WTF moment of the entire case – firstly where Watts confesses to his father, and secondly where Ronnie’s dad, shortly after being informed that his son murdered Shan’ann and both his grandchildren are dead, offers the cops some flaky corroboration [the doll wrapped in plastic] of Shan’ann’s supposed involvement using his phone.

#27 Who said: “I think we’re very, very close, but we’re not quite there yet”?

It wasn’t Lee, as depicted in the movie.

#28 – 31

The dramatization had a host of errors and inconsistencies too.

TCRS Analysis of the Final Scene in Confessions of a Killer – Patreon

The above link provides an analysis of the dramatization in the Lifetime movie, and why it doesn’t make any sense.



  1. Sylvester

    Thank you very much. Just a few more things –
    a. Nickole Atkinson seemed “perturbed” to be recording a Happy Father’s Day phone message from Shan’ann to Chris. I had no idea why that was in the movie, and why she would act perturbed. It just didn’t fit – the annoyed look on Atkinson’s face. Did they want as few references to the children as possible? They turned “My daddy is a hero” into “My husband is a hero” – but why did NA act perturbed. Also there was a reference to money and spending in that scene. Other than that I thought the movie as a whole avoided the whole issue money problems and living beyond their means.

    b. Was the meet-up with Nichole Kessinger planned or spontaneous? She’s dressed appropriately for a hike but he seems to be lumbering through the woods wearing tight dark pants and sweating in the June (it’s not clear when) or July heat of a Colorado summer.

    c. Totally missed the sleep mask. Which now makes me wonder, who it belongs to (the one in the Watt’s basement). Did he take NK’s mask home with him to have something next to him while he slept in the basement? If so then he was counting on Shan’ann not entering his subterranean hideout. How would Lifetime know about the sleep mask?

    • JC

      I think the set designer deserves an ‘A’ for doing a thorough job researching. I instantly thought of you, Sylvester, when I saw the sleep mask because I remembered your comments speculating on it, way back when the body cam footage first came out. It was on the bed in the basement until it wasn’t. Did the set designer assume it belonged to Nikki? I don’t have access to the credits – can you find the name of the set designer? Maybe email them and ask about their research prior to working on the movie set – they might be flattered that nvdl noticed and respond to one of you.

    • JC

      Also the children’s crayon drawings on the wall of the office was intentional.

      • Sylvester

        Hey JC. I wish I could see it again, I’m sure I’d pick up on more. Someone was nice enough to record it for me. And you know, memory fades. One thing that irked me was they portrayed Nikki Kessinger’s apartment to look more like a spacious house. And she too, in the movie, had a steep hardwood floor staircase. I wonder if they used the same Watts house set for her dwelling. A one bedroom apartment gets transformed into a large sized house. Next time you see it, see if you can see what she had stuck to her refrigerator door – pictures of Jim? Wildflowers? Oh ha ha, just noticed he’s trekking through the woods in the same outfit he was sitting in at home alone watching porn. What’s the inference here? Why watch porn alone when you can have the real thing – I think I’ll call that saucy little office girl who gave me her card, maybe we can go for a hike in the woods. If only my wife hadn’t of left me alone for 5 weeks none of this would have happened. It’s her fault. That, and the Strive.

        • JC

          *saucy little office girl* – you crack me up! The low budget for the Lifetime movies is apparent. The same lamp was used in 3 different scenes, unless we’re to believe Nikki and Shan’ann owned the same lamp.

  2. Juliew

    It had friend Nicole referencing being able to see her black flip flops by the door (as she actually did) but then showed shannan climbing the stairs in them to her death. Nicole must have good eyesight. Only reference to the financial hell they were in is a reference to paying a particular credit card down. No depiction of the tensions in the house that are just apparent on all those home videos. Worst thing was depicting the murder as something that escalated from an argument (while still having him say that he knew it was the last time etc etc). Plus the nonsense of Tammy saying she didn’t fight back because she thought he’d let go. My a&&e. I’m sure your body would physically fight for breath whatever your mind was thinking. But that’s ok because he is haunted by the children in his prison cell (it all went a bit The Shining for me then). I thought the actors were ok – sermon on porch bit quite real, though Chris depicted as lighter and more charming than he was. Oh, and deeter was written out of history a bit.

    • JuJuBee

      It really bothers me that Watts says Shan’ann didn’t fight back when he killed her. That does not make any sense at all. As you say, a person would automatically resist. Did Watts drug Shan’an again? Thinking he could just “put her to sleep” permanently? I can see him trying to incapacitate her to make his job easier.

      My main issue with the Lifetime movie was telling it from the perspective of a murderer and a serial liar. The actress playing Shan’ann was terrible but it’s partly because the movie was so unsympathetic towards her, being told from her killer’s point of view. The kids were an afterthought. The whole movie was basically The Chris-and-Nikki Afternoon Delight Show.

  3. Sylvester

    Doesn’t it seem that the Watts family were very lonely people? Like “Eleanor Rigby” Shan’ann lived in a dream, inside her phone, on social media, pitching Thrive. Watts wore a face that he kept in a jar by the door, who was it for? All the lonely people, where do they all come from.

    • nickvdl

      A truly TCRS observation Sylvester.

    • CBH

      Extremely important observation.

  4. Sylvester

    I didn’t particularly like the way the neighbor, Nate Trisnatich, was portrayed. He was greatly diminished in the film, not only in stature, but for the contribution his surveillance video had provided. He was shown to be a little guy with a red cap on backwards instead of the extremely tall and large man he is, he had no dialogue, and even his television set was small. It was so low to the ground and tiny that Watts could have stood in front of it and totally blotted out the picture. The surveillance video in real life was critical to the story as it showed Shan’ann did not leave the house with her children at any point May 13. It’s contribution to the story wasn’t that there were a few shadows here and there, or the nervousness of Watts viewing it, or that he made 3 trips back and forth but that his story that Shan’ann said she was going to take the kids and go to a friend’s house proved to be a lie. And at no time did she back her white Lexus out of the garage on the 13th.

    In real life, however, a better point would have been made had more footage been released showing a blank driveway for a few hours after Watts left showing no one coming or going. Instead the D.A.’s office wanted to infer that Watts made three trips from truck into garage and back to the truck that equaled the loading up of three bodies. And just as an aside, I’ve often thought that if Watts put his children in containers and then into the flat bed part of the truck, that may have been one reason he had so much trouble trying to find a place for the gas can.

    • Juliew

      Think they also missed out the neighbour saying to the police that something just wasn’t right with how Chris was behaving. Not proof as such but I’m sure it helped inform the police.

      • nickvdl

        I’m pretty sure that was in there Julie.

  5. Sylvester

    I think Chis Watts is a better actor than the actor who played Chris Watts. Think about this. He went into the interrogation room and sat there for hours sticking to his guns. They left him in the room with the clock ticking behind him to ponder a picture of his girls. What did he do? He picked his nose. He agreed to come back the next day and take a polygraph. He thought it looked good for him to do so. He stood on his porch and at least tried his best to explain what he thought happened and tried his best to act concerned by turning to the camera and saying Bella and Celeste and Shan’ann, if you are out there please come home. Do you know how hard giving that sermon on the porch would be for an introvert? If he didn’t sound authentic I give him an A for effort. He also remained cool when Officer Coonrod, Detective Baumhover, Ms. Atkinson and young Nickolas were looking high and low for clues (except for some bobbing and weaving). You would think there would be sweat rings under that long sleeved gray shirt but there weren’t. He raced into his garage and pretended to look into the windows of the Lexus so he could open the door and leave it open as a distraction to race into the house and take a quick look around before he opened the door. He finally caved when his own hubris put him in a trap – and even then he thought on his feet when they threw him a bone that maybe Shan’ann did something to the girls. And, he still hasn’t told us everything, even though he now knows he’s got nothing to lose. Chris Watts: Nice guy; Silver Fox. Two for the price of one.

  6. Anne

    I think Lifetime didn’t show the financial angle because they didn’twant to put Shanann i n a bad light.
    Maybe they’re capable of a little respect for a murdered mom
    More footage of the girls struggle to live, who would want to see that?
    I wouldn’t want to put child actors
    through that. Maybe Lifetime execs thought showing some restraint (for once) might make people take them more seriously?

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