What Jennifer Did Review: A Murder in Markham

Netflix doc revisits 2010 case that shocked the GTA

6 mins read

Update (Apr. 18, 2024): A recent report by 404 Media revealed that this documentary uses AI-generated images of Jennifer Pan in the telling of its story.


What Jennifer Did
(UK, 87 min.)
Dir. Jenny Popplewell


On November 8, 2010, gunshots pierced the evening silence of a quiet residential street in Markham, Ontario. Police cars flooded the suburban pocket of the Greater Toronto Area. Investigators and reporters revealed an incident that left Canadians heartbroken and horrified.

It’s the kind of sick and twisted tale that one only thinks could happen south of the border, but the story of what happened to the Pan family shows that Canadians aren’t as different from Americans as they often like to suggest. Moreover, it has all the hooks for a sympathetic tragedy as director Jenny Popplewell (American Murder: The Family Next Door) unfolds the tale. There’s a disturbing 911 call from 24-year-old Jennifer Pan. She’s distraught, but admirably cool enough under pressure. She tells the dispatcher that she’s tied up in her home and that men stormed into the house and shot her parents.

News footage then sets the scene for What Jennifer Did. Jennifer’s mother, Bich, was pronounced dead at the scene. She was shot, having come home from a night of line dancing. She was soaking her feet while her husband, Hann, went to bed early. The guys who allegedly stormed in shot him too, including a bullet to the face, but he survived. First responders whisked him away and induced a coma. With Jennifer being the only witness, the police brought her in for questioning. As the documentary shows, she told quite the story.

What Jennifer Did offers extensive footage from Pan’s interviews with the detectives investigating the crime. Contemporary interviews with the detectives, along with one of Jennifer’s former friends, one of Bich’s friends, and a social worker who was assigned to monitor Jennifer’s well-being, are cut throughout the footage. The effect invites audiences to witness Pan’s testimony from behind the two-way mirror they’ve seen in the movies.

The detectives find Jennifer’s story compelling, which leaves them grasping for a motive. They note that two very nice cars remained in the garage. All the Pans’ cash, jewelry, and watches were left at the scene. For a story of a home invasion, they say, it didn’t add up. Meanwhile, speculations that the Pans might have had nefarious dealings that invite such violence didn’t check out, either. By all accounts, they’re run-of-the-mill working class folks who keep to themselves. The mystery leaves neighbours spooked and wondering who may be next.

At the same time, the film provides information that contextualizes Jennifer’s story through interviews. People like her former music teacher and a high school friend tell of a young woman who carried pressures that second generation Canadians often face. What Jennifer Did situates the grisly crime within a familiar story as audiences learn how Jennifer’s parents moved to Canada from Vietnam. Interviewees tell how the Pans held high expectations for their daughter. It’s a recognizable tale: parents who left home so that their children can have better lives and put considerable pressure on their kids to achieve said goals.

These stories make Jennifer sympathetic. However, they also reveal cracks in her testimony.

The detectives do a little digging, ask around, and bring Jennifer in for another interview. The plot, as they say, thickens. The cops learn that Jennifer had a boyfriend who didn’t meet her parents’ approval because they wanted better for their daughter than a low-level pot dealer with a day job at Boston Pizza.

As the clues come in, What Jennifer Did unfolds like a great page-turner. This true-crime yarn invites viewers to consider its central figure anew as fresh information reframes her story. The accumulated lies prove revealing as Jennifer’s body language shifts during her interviews. Grief yields to panic.

For audiences who don’t know the Pan family’s tragedy, What Jennifer Did should provide a gripping true crime doc. It generally follows the style that people have come to expect with these kinds of movies—talking heads interviews and lots of B-roll to keep the visuals lively—but the interview footage with Pan ensures that it’s a fascinating character study. Netflix already has a hit titled Making a Murderer, but the name could easily apply here. The film provides unique insight into the psychology, circumstances, and grievances that might drive one to murder. And in doing so, it provides chilling horror story in which the victim’s final words were a plea for the killers to spare her daughter.

What Jennifer Did is now streaming on Netflix.

Pat Mullen is the publisher of POV Magazine. He holds a Master’s in Film Studies from Carleton University where his research focused on adaptation and Canadian cinema. Pat has also contributed to outlets including The Canadian Encyclopedia, Paste, That Shelf, Sharp, Xtra, and Complex. He is the vice president of the Toronto Film Critics Association and an international voter for the Golden Globe Awards.

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