Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB.
USA, 1996. Home Box Office. Cinematography by Richard Richman. Produced by Joe Berlinger, Bruce Sinofsky. Film Editing by Joe Berlinger, Bruce Sinofsky. Independent Spirit Awards 1996. National Board of Review Awards 1996.
One of the most horrifying murder cases in American history hit the news in May of 1993 when the bodies of three adolescent boys were found sexually brutalized and mutilated in the Robin Hood Hills of West Memphis, Arkansas. Three suspects, themselves teenage boys, are arrested by police not long after the bodies were discovered and, as can be expected, insist that they were not the perpetrators of the heinous crime. Two murder trials follow, with Jessie Misskelley tried separately from Damien Wayne Echols and Jason Baldwin, poring over details that become suspect as we delve further into the rabbit hole of confusion and emotional frustration that the case presents. The evidence linking the boys to the crime scene is highly circumstantial, but their alibis aren’t exactly iron-clad either. Then there is the question of perception, as much of what weighs against the suspects in the courtroom is their teenage-rebellion interests in black clothing and the occult which the prosecution relies on far too much as evidence. Twenty years, two sequels and a fourth film West Of Memphis have done nothing to dull the impact of this first chapter in a fascinating, tragic saga that does a terrific job of observing all the participants; directors Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky let the accused teens have their say, but the inclusion of disturbing photographs and footage of the victims makes sure that you never forget the tragedy and loss that set the whole situation off in the first place. The heartbroken parents of the film are never judged for their harsh opinions of the suspects, though the filmmakers couldn’t possibly shy away from their admittedly idiosyncratic personalities either (“I’m on TV!”)