Devil's Knot

2014-05-09 09:52
What it's about:

The compelling story of three teenagers accused of the brutal 1993 murder of three 8-year-old boys in Memphis, Arkansas. Two of them were sentenced to life imprisonment and one to death.

The film explores the lives of deeply misunderstood outsiders, their families and communities, and their darkest fantasies. The conviction of the West Memphis Three—Damien Echols, Jesse Misskelley, Jr., and Jason Baldwin—riled the American justice system, shocked a tightly knit religious town and outraged the nation.

What we thought:

Another in the long line of forgotten movies that come to SA a year later, Devil’s Knot is more like the kind of free-TV Saturday movies you watch while channel hopping. It follows the true story of an apparent Satanic killing of three young boys and the three teenagers convicted of the crime.

But it wouldn’t make for an interesting plot if that was it. In an obvious manner from the get-go the movie heaps lots of doubt on the guilt of the boys as they still battle for exoneration in real life. Although heavily steeped in the superstitions of American people and the occult, it might bear some familiarity in regards to the ongoing trial of the alleged Satanic killing of two Soweto schoolgirls earlier this year and the two boys involved. Although very different cases, it does draw similarities with how the media covers such cases and how the public responds.

Despite the curiosity one might have about the case, the films itself was a bland run through of all the scenes and a continuous wonder at why stars like Reese Witherspoon and Colin Firth would star in something so banal. Dane DeHaan might be forgiven as his status only recently rocketed since starring in The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (and doing brilliantly), but it is still a wonder. My only guess is that it was to give support for the West Memphis Three (as they were coined by the media) in their battle to be cleared from all charges.

What was also annoying about the plot is the absolute focus on only one of the killed boys’ parents - the mother played by Witherspoon. One other couple was mentioned in the film, but the third boy was completely ignored by the film. Perhaps the family didn’t want be involved in the film, but the two fathers that were present were not exactly portrayed in the kindest light – insinuating that they had something to do with their children’s deaths – so I don’t think permission was an issue.

What was poignant in the film was the dangers of a mob mentality when dealing with very emotional homicides, and nothing gets a community as riled up as the torture and murder of children. It is generally acknowledged, except by the state of Arkansas, that the boys were convicted without proper evidence against them and it calls to question how the jury system is influenced by public sentiment. And with ‘Satanic Panic’ spreading like wildfire through a community, it is no wonder the judge and jury let that inform their decisions.

Still, this movie is definitely not worth the movie ticket when you can just wait for it to be replayed over the next few years on TV. Real-crime enthusiasts would probably enjoy it, but don’t expect Oscar-performances from the Oscar-winning cast.

A straight-to-TV-movie with a surprising A-list cast, this murder-mystery-based-on-a-true-story might peak your interest, but not enough to buy a movie ticket.

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