Based on a true story that shocked the nation in 1965, the film recounts one of the most shocking crimes ever committed against a single victim. Sylvia and Jennie Fae Likens, the two daughters of traveling carnival workers are left for an extended stay at the Indianapolis home of single mother Gertrude Baniszewski and her six children. Times are tough, and Gertrude's financial needs cause her to make this arrangement before realizing how the burden will push her unstable nature to a breaking point. What transpires in the next three months is both riveting and horrific. Written by
Ellen Page literally starved herself for her role as Sylvia. When director Tommy O'Haver noticed she was looking thinner, he asked her if she was eating and she replied "No, because Sylvia wasn't being fed." See more »
In the scene where Gertrude and Ricky are smoking together, Gertrude says, "You ain't old enough for smoke". In 1965, it was legal for minors to smoke as there was no legal smoking age. See more »
Reverend Bill used to say, "For every situation God always has a plan." I guess I'm still trying to figure out what that plan was.
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The final credit states "Sylvia Likens, 1949-1965". See more »
What a tragedy that I will never have an opportunity to see this film in a theatre. The cast alone that includes the currently very popular Ellen Page should have merited something better than Saturday night Showtime.
Because of this, the impact will be blunted, however even in its limited presentation, the film was stunning and will easily end up among my favorites for the year. The quiet contemplation of the mood and the selection of a hideous story from post-Beaver Cleaver trivial innocence, pre-late 1960s tumult creates a moment so far outside our expectations of this nonsense daily on 24/7 news channels that its impact nails you full frontal.
I particularly like some of the discussions of this film that complain that it was not graphic enough and because of this, didn't hit people 'in the gut.' This alone warrants a short meditation.
To paraphrase one of the best commentaries I've read on this thing, there is an inner sadist in all of us. America's history of violence and tolerance of violence just gives license to bring it out more often and intensely. And despite our strong sense of individuality and our braggadocio about freedom, we have this very strange conformist streak. The confluence of these two conflicted tendencies can lead to bad places.
This film meditates subtly and, yes, beautifully on all of this. By eschewing potential excesses that some complaining viewers apparently desired, the story puts us in a disturbing place where we might not suspend disbelief and acknowledge the raw emotions as something potentially alive within.
I believe it is this troubling recognition of possibility that branded this film in various ways keeping it from ever being seen in a theatre. By exposing it first on pay TV, the unwashed masses might easily mistake it for a poorly done version of sensational MSNBC serial killer crap. Stuff like this is pleasurable to many because it lets them wallow 'down with the sickness' while pretending they are above it.
There is a wonderful moment in the story when the almost involuntarily sadistic mother utters 'there are things in life we have to do whether we like them or not.' I can't help but think this was borrowed from the sadistic father figure in the original 'Texas Chainsaw Massacre,' a film that many wanted this to be so as to give them some form of absolution from their own demons 'An American Crime' exposes.
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