The HBO Max documentary series Low Country: The Murdaugh Dynasty examines ongoing legal cases against prominent South Carolina attorney Alex Murdaugh by covering earlier incidents involving his family. True crime fans have probably heard something about this story already. Most notably, the Murdaugh Murders Podcast continues to publish weekly updates on the case, although investigative journalist and host Mandy Matney was not involved with the production of the series. For those who are not already following the story elsewhere, Low Country: The Murdaugh Dynasty is a perfect entry point, providing key information from various perspectives in a concise and approachable format.
Low Country begins where most coverage of the Murdaughs has: with a boat crash in February 2019 that resulted in the death of teenager Mallory Beach. Paul Murdaugh, Alex’s son, had been driving the boat while under the influence. In June 2021, while awaiting trial, Paul was shot and killed, as was his mother Maggie, and just a couple of months later, in September 2021, Alex was involved in a shooting but survived. As the investigation unfolded, a slew of alleged financial crimes came to light and, in January 2023, authorities began trying Alex for the murders of Paul and Maggie. On March 2, 2023, Alex was found guilty of both murders and still faces dozens of other charges. Alex is a former attorney from a long line of powerful attorneys, and the majority of the financial crimes he’s accused of are for misappropriating funds from settlement money intended for his clients in personal injury and wrongful death suits.
Because Low Country originally aired in November 2022, it’s unable to cover the most recent developments. It takes a “bird’s eye” approach, leaving out many details. This “fast-tracking” is a concern for true crime media, and criticism has been aimed at producers and filmmakers who pitch documentaries too soon after a crime occurs. For example, critics have been particularly vocal about Peacock’s documentary The Murder of Gabby Petito: Truth, Lies and Social Media and Lifetime’s dramatized adaptation, The Gabby Petito Story: Gabby went missing in August 2021, the documentary aired in December 2021, and Lifetime’s adaptation aired in October 2022. Low Country may be open to similar criticism due to the timing of its filming and release. It’s unclear whether HBO will attempt a second season of Low Country as more information becomes available.
Despite these criticisms, Low Country doesn’t feel like a rushed production; it’s well made, and with only three episodes, it’s easily bingeable. The sound design and editing are particularly effective. A repeated transition sequence that uses side-to-side scrolling to display newspaper headlines serves to introduce the next topic of discussion by relating it to earlier news items. This sequence provides a quick recap and works well as a topical bridge, but it does require viewers to read the screen at times.
The series attempts to prioritize first-hand information, including audio of 911 calls, surveillance and dashcam footage, and interviews with family and friends. Some of those interviewed are anonymous, and others will be familiar to those who have followed the case so far. However, some people interviewed don’t have a clear connection to the case, with lower thirds giving their credential as “Hampton County Resident.” Several others are quite close to the events discussed, including Anthony Cook, a friend of Paul Murdaugh’s who was on the boat when it crashed and who was Mallory Beach’s boyfriend; Joe McCulloch, who is the Cook family’s attorney; and Jim Griffin, who is Alex Murdaugh’s defense attorney.
Additionally, while some families participated in the documentary, other key figures didn’t. For example, the family of Stephen Smith, another dead teen with alleged ties to the Murdaugh family, is heavily featured, but no member of Beach’s family appears. This may be because the Beach family was still pursuing a civil case against the Murdaughs at the time of filming. And while Connor Cook’s parents are interviewed, Connor himself, who was another passenger in the boat driven by Paul, makes no statement in the docuseries.
Overall, Low Country: The Murdaugh Dynasty is a solid attempt at laying the groundwork for future coverage of Alex Murdaugh’s ongoing legal entanglements. However, because the docuseries was developed so close in time to the events it covers, it cannot provide a comprehensive view of the various situations and mysteries on which it touches. Furthermore, because litigation was ongoing during filming, the filmmakers were quite careful about allegations against Murdaugh. Perhaps as more trials are concluded, a clearer narrative of overcoming corruption in the legal system and righting wrongs committed by a Good Ol’ Boys network in a small Southern county will be possible, but Low Country cannot fully tell that story… yet.
Stage and Screen
Low Country: The Murdaugh Dynasty
Directed by Mor Loushy and Daniel Sivan
Streaming on HBO Max