Michaella McCollum had just turned twenty when she was arrested in Lima, Peru, in August 2013 for trying—with accomplice Melissa Reid—to smuggle 11 kilos of cocaine out of the country. Since McCollum was Irish and Reid was Scottish, and given that the former had already made headlines for being reportedly missing, this immediately became front-page news in the U.K. Further stoking the tabloid fire was the fact that the duo, who’d soon come to be known as the “Peru Two,” claimed that they’d been forced at gunpoint by cartel villains to commit this crime.
That, however, was a lie. McCollum and Reid had willingly become drug traffickers out of a combination of greed and stupidity (heavy emphasis on the latter).
Currently available on Netflix, High: Confessions of an Ibiza Drug Mule is a four-part docuseries about the Peru Two’s ordeal that specifically focuses on McCollum, who’s both interviewed at length in—as well as provides narration for—this non-fiction affair. There’s a severe disconnect between McCollum’s natural and revealing off-the-cuff commentary during her on-camera segments and her laughably over-rehearsed scripted remarks, which strive in vain to make her sound smart and snarky (“Time was going kid-before-Christmas slow”). Simultaneously, copious dramatic recreations aim to glamorize McCollum and Reid’s saga through flashy camerawork and cutting, only to render it a clichéd compendium of dimwitted behavior.
The origins of McCollum’s nightmare seemingly lurk in her childhood in Dungannon, Ireland, with nine siblings. For reasons that she never properly divulges (other than cheekily quipping, “Shooting and sheep—pure shite, right?”), McCollum opted to abandon her rural homeland and clan by booking a one-way ticket to Ibiza, where she promptly began partying like there was no tomorrow. Someone in the docuseries fleetingly refers to McCollum as a wannabe model, a newspaper clipping identifies her as a hostess, and McCollum herself talks about getting a job at a bar. Nonetheless, she makes it very clear that she wasn’t there for professional reasons, nor to enjoy any of the locale’s tourist destinations. Rather, she was in Ibiza to expend energy on dancing and doing drugs to her heart’s delight.
McCollum’s best Ibiza friend Parry describes McCollum as “drunk” when they first met, and someone who could “be a bit messy sometimes,” although their similar hedonistic interests made them a fast pair. The problem for McCollum was that the high life cost a pretty penny and she wasn’t making much in the way of cash. Considering that her place of employment sold customers narcotics along with their drinks, as well as her own copious ingestion of such substances, she didn’t blush when her new close friend Davey offered her an opportunity to earn quick, easy money. According to McCollum, Davey—who she knew was a dealer, and who Parry distrusted from the start—asked her to travel to Barcelona and retrieve a package for him, and in return, she’d be paid £5,000. Even now, Parry can barely believe McCollum almost destroyed her life over such a paltry amount.
Parry’s reaction is one that will be shared by many viewers of High: Confessions of an Ibiza Drug Mule, which despite McCollum’s participation is a decidedly unflattering portrait of its subject. McCollum explains that, upon embarking on this foolish gig, she learned that she was actually flying to Peru—which she didn’t even know was in South America; she assumed it was somewhere in Spain—and that she’d then head to Cusco and be partnered with Reid. Together, the women were stuck in a house with a cartel member (who had plenty of guns) and were then told to take a 7-day tour in order to pose as sightseers. By this point, McCollum had already turned into a media item back in Ireland as a missing traveler, and when she and Reid finally got the call to pull off their feat, they discovered that they’d be transporting coke in lots of small bags of porridge in their suitcases.
Peruvian authorities dutifully discuss their familiarity with drug mules in High: Confessions of an Ibiza Drug Mule, and it’s not difficult to glean their underlying opinion that—regardless of the cartel’s repeated promises to McCollum and Reid that this would be easy and safe—this was not a brilliant ruse. At the airport, the women were busted, and the docuseries gets some brief mileage out of footage of their detainment and questioning by police and prosecutors. Still, the idiocy that McCollum and Reid exhibited with their initial decision-making continued apace even upon arrest, with both asserting that they had been violently coerced into becoming cartel pawns. This wasn’t accurate, though. Law enforcement knew it and, when confronted with the possibility of spending 15 years behind bars, McCollum and Reid spilled the beans about their culpability, netting them reduced sentences of six years and eight months.
“Still, the idiocy that McCollum and Reid exhibited with their initial decision-making continued apace even upon arrest, with both asserting that they had been violently coerced into becoming cartel pawns.”
High: Confessions of an Ibiza Drug Mule’s closing installment concentrates on McCollum’s stay in a maximum-security Peruvian prison alongside rapists and murderers, where she chose to grow up and make something of herself and, for her efforts, received an early release. The docuseries’ redemption angle isn’t a surprise and yet it largely rings false, not because it’s untrue so much as because it feels like it’s the price the production paid to get McCollum to contribute, as well as a means of gliding over the uglier aspects of McCollum’s actions—be it that she hurt and shamed her family, or that her victimization lies resulted in community members raising funds for her legal defense. While it’s admirable to learn from one’s mistakes, the contrition McCollum expresses in High: Confessions of an Ibiza Drug Mule is less than the self-congratulation she radiates for having used prison as a vehicle for maturation.
Ultimately, this Netflix true-crime endeavor is most fascinating when it details drug cartels’ methods of procuring and pressuring citizens into doing their illicit bidding. That said, High: Confessions of an Ibiza Drug Mule isn’t nearly as exculpatory as it wants to be, just as McCollum’s belief that “I wasn’t any different than you” falls quite a bit short of convincing.
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