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Based on the true story of the West Memphis Three where three young boys were savagely murdered in West Memphis, Arkansas in 1993. Spurred on by the demand from a grieving town, the local police act quickly to bring three "devil-worshipping" teenagers to trial. With their lives hanging in the balance, investigator Ron Lax is trying to find the truth between the town's need for justice and the guilt of the accused. Written by
An Outstanding Film About One of the Most Troubling Murder Cases of the Late 20th Century -- Unjustly Snubbed By Critics
In 1996, HBO produced a documentary, "Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills", about the much-publicized murder case of three pre-teen boys, Stevie Branch, Michael Moore, and Christopher Byers, who were murdered in the wooded creeks called Robin Hood Hills near West Memphis, Arkansas. The local authorities were convinced the murders were enacted by three older male teens, Damien Echols, Jessie Misskelley, Jr., and Jason Baldwin. According to the present film and the HBO documentaries, the local authorities targeted the older teens as suspects in a kind of modern-day witch-hunt because of their interest in the occult, horror films, and Heavy Metal music. Echols was often seen wearing black clothing, an affront to the predominant Christian community of West Memphis. He later admitted to reading about Aleister Crowley but asserted he had never read any of Crowley's actual writings.
The case against the three teens hinged primarily on the notion that the murders were committed as a kind of sacrifice in a satanic ritual. Also, dubious testimony, particularly that of Vicki Hutcheson and her son Aaron, was later recanted. Hutcheson claimed initially that she had seen the three teens involved in Satanic rituals and that Damien Eckles had bragged about committing the murders at the event. She later said she had been coerced by police to offer false evidence, fearing authorities might take away her son. Her son Aaron in a video-taped interview said he had seen the actual murders, but then later when he was older withdrew his testimony claiming he knew nothing about the crimes. Other evidence, such as the possible involvement of an African-American who ended up in the ladies' room and smeared blood on the walls at Bojangles Restaurant the night of the murders was never adequately followed up on. No actual physical evidence linked the boys with the murders. Their prosecution was mainly based on circumstantial evidence concerning their interest in the occult.
Twenty years after the convictions of the so-called "West Memphis Three" and 17 years after the HBO Documentary "Paradise Lost", the film "the Devil's Knot" based on the book of the same name was released, starring Colin Firth as Ron Lax, a private investigator who became interested in the case, and Reese Witherspoon as Pamela Hobbs, the mother of victim Stevie Branch. First off, the film is beautifully shot. The lush swampy areas portraying the Robin Hood Hills appear almost like photos you might see in a postcard. The night shots are particularly beautiful, although simultaneously horrific as the setting for the brutal murders.
Critics claimed the film didn't add anything new to the understanding of the case, but I don't believe this was the filmmakers' intentions. The point of the film I believe was simply to tell the story in a dramatic/narrative format rather than a documentary. (HBO produced three documentaries in all about the case and probably assisted in the revelation about the poor police investigation, the witch-hunt sensibilities towards members of their community interested in the occult, and the dubious testimonies which led eventually to the release of the West Memphis Three.) Apart from whether or not audiences will believe the West Memphis Three are guilty or innocent, much of the film is about the complexity of such cases. Unless a defendant truthfully confesses to a crime, many questions and strange circumstances surround most cases. In many instances, the whole truth may be nearly unobtainable, such as questions which still surround the JFK Assassination.
An excellent and underrated film. The main reasons "The Devil's Knot" works as well as it does is because of the fine acting, particularly Witherspoon, Firth, and an honorable mention to James Hamrick as Damien Echols, the wonderful direction, and also because of the film's point of view. The film shows both sides of the case. The local authorities were pressured by the community to find the three teens guilty since a rift between conservative Christians and those interested in the occult was growing wider. In the film, one character states that those interested in the occult were bound to become enmeshed in a crime case sooner or later. Of course, the most informative details can be found in the three HBO documentaries, "Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills" (1996), "Paradise Lost 2: Revelations" (2000), and "Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory" (2011).
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