The savage murders of three young children sparks a controversial trial of three teenagers accused of killing the kids as part of a satanic ritual.
Making a film about such a high profile case – the West Memphis Three – was always going to be tricky, especially as there’s been so much on it already (what with the dozens of books as well as a bunch of documentaries, including the popular Paradise Lost trilogy). However, this film was basically just an adaptation of the book of the same name, written by Mara Leveritt. It’s very much an introductory guide to the case and would be a good one to show beginners who are unfamiliar with the story.
I personally found that The Devil’s Knot was rather restrained and, though it tried to touch the powerful emotions which were present in the case, it did not reach them. Due to the amount of time that has passed since the events actually occurred and the complete confusion of evidence and testimonies etc, maybe director Atom Egoyan thought that a more subtle approach would be best. But this just feels a little too safe and therefore doesn’t seem to offer anything more to the story that we hadn’t previously known – what exactly was the film’s purpose then? What does it offer? Sadly, nothing…unless of course you are one of the few people on the planet with no awareness of the case. Other mainstream movies based on real life murders usually put an opinion forward, such as in Patty Jenkins’ movie, Monster, about Aileen Wuornos where it put a sympathetic spin on the first ever female serial killer, deliberately highlighting her troubled, abusive childhood and turbulent life as a prostitute.
It was an unusual but bold choice to place the focus on the film mainly on Pamela Hobbs (mother of one of the victims) and Ron Lax (a voluntary private investigator working on the defence). These two opposing characters give a completely different flavour to what we are seeing – with Pamela, she is riddled with grief after the murders and the trial doesn’t appear to bring her much satisfaction, and with Ron, he is filled with a determination and sense of injustice towards the treatment of the teenage suspects. However, I’m disappointed that the West Memphis Three themselves did not feature that much at all, considering that they were at the heart of this story. Similarly, the other families of the victims were only briefly shown and I thought that that could have been a great source of emotion for the film – especially given the suspicion that was aroused by John Mark Byers unusual behaviour.
Whilst doing some research into the film, I was interested to find out that apparently Jason Baldwin, one of the three accused of the murders, had to give the actor playing him (Seth Meriwether) a hug and a pep talk because he got so emotional just thinking about what these guys went through. In contrast to Jason Baldwin’s willingness to be a part of the film though, Damien Echols was always vehemently against it. He even went so far as to say that the making of the film has ‘driven a wedge between them’, and they are allegedly no longer talking. It is things like this which highlight what an intense and powerful tale The Devil’s Knot is, because it isn’t just another nasty horror story, it is real life. Therefore, a film like this should not be viewed as mere entertainment, but a chilling, heart-breaking retelling of a tragedy.
The Devil’s Knot was shot well and the acting was of a decent quality (though that’s not too surprising given that A listers like Reese Witherspoon and Colin Firth, complete with unusual American accent, were featured in the cast). I thought that the story was told in an interesting way, flitting between all of the major players in the investigation and seemed to keep to the facts. The unfortunate thing is, of course, that there isn’t a satisfactory ending to this one, but that is not the script writers fault, that’s for sure! If you already have an avid interest in the case, this one may not be for you as you will probably find that it just covers the same ground as every other retelling does. However, anyone with a curiosity about what all of the fuss is about then definitely check it out!