Written by Michael Vickerman
Directed by Jessica Harmon
In 2013, we lived in the Mount Washington Valley, where we still live to this day. Our town is a number of “feeder towns” to a central high school, Kennett High School. My middle daughter had just graduated from Kennett High School and my son was 13 years old and a classmate of Abigail Hernandez.
I first became aware of this movie when a fellow blogger wrote about it. Some of what she wrote bothered me quite a bit, having lived through the experience and the realization that it very easily could have been one of my kids that kidnapper Nathaniel Kibby chose. I also recently read another review where the reviewer remarked that were it not for a paragraph at the end of the film, he never would have thought Kibby sexually assaulted his victim. I felt the need to see it myself so I could rip it apart correctly.
I was surprised when looking at the credits to see “Abigail Hernandez” listed as one of the executive producers. How much involvement she had in the finished product is debatable since it barely resembles what actually happened to her. However, with this in mind, I couldn’t really rip it apart the way I wanted to. If this is the way she wanted her story told, I have to respect it. Still, the movie does not much resemble what actually happened.
From the opening scene, I know it’s not our town. Honestly, it’s way off. A quick look revealed that it was filmed in British Columbia. I don’t know that anyone involved in the production ever set foot in the Mount Washington Valley, other than Abigail. It really looks more like a typical suburban neighborhood rather than a rural area with less than 10,000 year-round residents. Kennett High School became “Kentwood High School.”
There is a long driveway down from the High School, however, it’s pretty busy with students who park their cars down in the parking lot of nearby stores when they don’t get a student space or lose theirs for being late too much (see middle daughter above – this was her.) We also don’t have a mall that looks anything like what’s depicted in the film when it’s apparent she’s getting kidnapped.
Abby Hernandez was walking home from school with new shoes on which resulted in blisters. She stated that’s the only reason she took the ride offered to her by a stranger. That stranger turned out to be Nathaniel Kibby, who quickly overpowers her and handcuffs her, and tasers her into submission. Abby is then taken to a soundproofed shipping container in his backyard. She doesn’t know where she is, though. He sexually assaulted her over the course of the next nine months and keeps her subdued with a shock collar around her neck. The door to the container was rigged to look like there were explosives, and Kibby told Abigail that if she tried to open it, it would trigger a fire and she would burn to death.
In the film, she spends very little time in the shipping container, and more time in his home with a view of the outside. Kibby had neighbors close by and Abby would have been able to see that if that were the case in real life.
The day after Abigail went missing, all hell broke loose in the Valley. Locals rallied to help look for her, and everyone was on edge, not knowing if she ran away or was kidnapped. Rumors floated everywhere, especially since the FBI was involved very quickly. A couple of my friends greatly helped Zenya Hernandez in the search for Abby and dealing with the media. I passed the billboard which was briefly mentioned in the film every day on my way into town. That was done with the help of the townsfolk and the company that owned the billboard. It was still up when she came home, nine months later.
None of this is depicted in the film. Abby is shown as being “collected” more than abused. The room Kibby keeps her in even has a window in it in the film. She was kept in a dark shipping container that, as far as she knew, was out in the woods. There were houses around where Kibby kept her, yet she never knew they were there because she never saw the outside. She was subjected to horrific sexual abuse, yet this Lifetime movie intimates that she was never sexually assaulted at all. It looks more like he just kept her prisoner but never did anything else to her, kind of like he needed a friend to talk to and who would listen to his ranting. There’s even one point they show him leaning in to kiss her and she backs away as if he’d let her have a choice in the matter. I don’t need graphic details, but this is so toned down that it doesn’t seem like the same events we know of. Kibby is depicted in the film as a conspiracy-theory-obsessed incel, typical of many right-wingers out there. I know people who worked with him, and he was weird all of his life. While no one who knew him was surprised when he was arrested, they also hadn’t seen any signs that he was this depraved.
Maybe that’s how Abby wanted her story depicted. If so, then it should have been stated somewhere. I respect her choice if that was the case, but it really does a disservice to her story and makes the film unwatchable. It’s possible she didn’t want the sexual abuse depicted on the screen, but it’s not even hinted at. The few times they are shown together in the shipping container, including one time Nate Kibby has fallen asleep, they are both fully clothed and look like they were just hanging out together and fell asleep. There’s not even a hint of how she was abused that would make her so frightened of Kibby that she wouldn’t initially tell the police what happened. It took several days before Nate Kibby was arrested. Instead, by showing Nate turning to porn while keeping Abby a prisoner, it makes it seem like he never sexually assaulted her, which is far from the truth. She did save herself by humanizing herself to Kibby.
When the letter is leaked, it was mostly people outside of the town that harassed Abby’s mother. I saw the posts on social media that were the work of “keyboard warriors” who were sure they knew better than the police and FBI what was going on. Inside the Valley, she was still treated as being abducted. There had been other women missing throughout the years, and I have to wonder if anyone ever researched where Nate Kibby was when those abductions happened. (Maura Murray disappeared from the Western part of the White Mountains in 2004 and has never been found.) The way he managed to conceal Abby for so long seems to indicate previous experience, or a lot of time chatting with others who might have done the same thing.
When Kibby became unemployed and started counterfeiting money, that was the beginning of the end. As the police were closing in on that, he found he couldn’t kill her, and thought that by threatening to kill her and her family (or that others would if he were in jail), he would keep her quiet. I remember people being upset that she didn’t reveal all right away, convinced she had something to do with it. This movie does not depict the emotional trauma she went through that would cause her to be reticent about naming Nate Kibby as her kidnapper.
In short, Girl in the Shed fails to deliver on many levels. It fails to show the horrific abuse Abigail Hernandez suffered. It fails to show just how much the community rallied around her and her mother. It’s not worth anyone’s time.
Categories: Movie Reviews
I suspect that Abby was given the grandiose title of “executive producer” and some salary to go with it so she would allow the filmmakers to make the movie and at least have a scintilla of control over her story.
I don’t watch cable TV much here, and even when I did watch regularly in Miami, I avoided the Lifetime Channel after watching one of their many insipid, watered-down “based on a true story” films in the late 1990s. And while I can understand why Lifetime would not want to subject its mostly female viewership to R-rated material, this movie seems so watered down and inaccurate that it’s not even worth spending five minutes watching it.
The filmmakers should have, at the very least, tried harder to be accurate without showing the more graphic sexual abuse that the real Abby Hernandez endured.
If she hadn’t been involved in it, My guess would be that whoever wrote this was an incel himself and sympathized with Kibby. That doesn’t appear to be the case. I don’t know how much control she had or if the title was just because she agreed to tell her story. Lifetime has done other movies with sexual assault and handled that aspect much better, even if the movies are still insipid and watered-down.
What a gruesome story. It’s unfortunate that the movie could not be honest about what happened. I certainly wouldn’t have liked any gruesome scenes in it, but leaving the truth out is pointless.
It’s just mystifying. I’ve seen some pretty terrible Lifetime movies, but this one misses the whole point of how terrible his cause was.
Excellent review! I’m glad my review gave you the chance to see and critique this “film”. Unfortunately, Lifetime movies have become pretty terrible. More than once, I’ve watched one and felt like they had made a mockery out of the true stories of the horrific crimes they’ve turned into entertainment. While I’m sorry about what happened to Abby Hernandez, it’s good to have the perspective of someone who is actually from the community where her story originates.
Thanks. If I hadn’t seen her name on the credits I wouldn’t have thought she had anything to do with it.