Why HBO's documentary about the Cannibal Cop case is filled with dark humor


Thought Crimes Erin Carr Andrew Coffman

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"Thought Crimes" director Erin Lee Carr with Andrew Rossi (left) and editor Andrew Coffman (right). Coffman helped create some of the film's surprisingly funny moments.

For a documentary that tackles the justice system and the frightening future of the internet head on, "Thought Crimes" has its funny moments.


HBO recently debuted the documentary following Gilberto Valle, a former NYPD officer who was accused of using an online chat room to plot a scheme to kidnap, rape, and eat dozens of women. His subsequent trial became a media phenomenon. He was dubbed "Cannibal Cop."

Upon first viewing, some of the laughter in an otherwise disturbing documentary might seem like an accident. However, director Erin Lee Carr told Business Insider she wanted to bring some light moments to an otherwise troubling subject matter.

"... People were really terrified but then kind of a couple weeks later the tabloids were kind of making a joke about it because there was something sort of inherently funny about this sort of dark subject matter." Carr told Business Insider.

After Valle's arrest, he became something of a media punchline. The film highlights many of the newspaper covers he graced.


Thought Crimes New York Post


Valle was dubbed as "Cannibal Cop" by much of the media.

Cannibal Cop New York Post


A lot of media outlets used food-inspired puns to tell the story of the Cannibal Cop.

Scenes which elicited a lot of uncomfortable laughter at a Tribeca Film Festival screening I attended were ones that showed Valle in his house cooking. Carr noticed that, too. Nearly every time they're in house, Valle can be seen cooking up a new meal.

When asked about the number of cooking scenes, Carr explained they had a lot of that footage to work with.

"Everyone is so kind of obsessed about [the food shots] and I understand the edits kind of make it seem like we're being playful," Carr said. "I swear to you, being under house arrest he couldn't even go into his backyard. We could watch television. We could talk. Or we could eat food."

Thought Crimes Gilberto Valle


Valle was under house arrest during shooting, so much of the film takes place over meals in his living room.


All of that b-roll of Valle cooking and eating led to some surprisingly hilarious, seamless transitions like this one:

Thought Crimes GIF


Comedy can be a way to remove the tension from a situation. Carr says editor Andrew Coffman saw the comedy potential in certain parts of the film telling her "we can't have this be a dark internet movie the entire 82 minutes."

Carr hopes these scenes could serve a bigger purpose.

"I hoped that the cooking shots would normalize his behavior a bit." Carr said. "After the first couple times it's like 'it's scary! It's uncomfortable!' But that's something...it was kind of a guy in his kitchen and I think so many people took it all sorts of different ways."

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