Were we really that backwards in 1993?
I mean, I was a freshman in high school (and not the most up-to-date on current events). But it seems odd to me that the events from Devil’s Knot took place that year and with the culture that was portrayed in the film. Ironically, when I do look back to the major events of that year, the first one to pop up is the Branch Davidian Cult incident.
So maybe we were…
Devil’s Knot is a film based upon the murders of 3 young boys in West Memphis, Arkansas. The 8 year olds went out into the woods one afternoon and never came back. Their bound bodies were found submerged in a creek called Devil’s Den the next day. As the town works itself into a frenzy over these killings, 3 young men are offered up as the murderers by local police. These men are not only accused of the murders, but of ritualistic satanic worship as well. Despite continued pleas of innocence, they are tried and become known as the “West Memphis Three”.
The film focuses primarily on the mother of one of the boys (Pam Hobbs, played by Reese Witherspoon) and her reaction to both the murders and the media circus surrounding them. The first scenes are heartbreaking as we see the interaction between Pam and her son Stevie. After losing him, we see a mother struggle with both the search for him and the search for answers. She appears both flighty and possibly drugged into that personality, but we watch with unrest as she becomes less assured by the powers-that-be and the case they bring against the accused.
The accused (played by James Hamrick, Seth Meriwether, and Kristopher Higgins) are no saints, but they may not be murderers as well. Despite the accusations, Damien (Hamrick) comes across as a confused child who likes the attention that being different offers him. He practices Wicca, but winces at the accusations of large Satanic rituals carried out in private with others. Jason (Meriwether) is Damien’s friend, and is presumed guilty by association. Jessie (Higgins) is a simple boy that may not be all there in the head. They are all young men, still in (or dropped out of) school, and without alibis.
Investigator Ron Lax (Colin Firth) is haunted by these murders, and he starts to suspect that the stories told about these boys might not be up to snuff. For example, one of the witnesses was picked up for another crime the day of these crimes. She offered “to play detective” and recounted a tale of a large get together of Satanists that she may have made up after seeing something similar on tv. The evidence presented may be tampered, and these boys may just be victims of blind vengeance.
Now, the events of Devil’s Knot take place in 1993, but the tone is one from the 1980s. The townsfolk blame the boys’ affinity for heavy metal and horror movies to be the driving force of these murders. Like I said, I was a freshman in high school in 1993 and I remember the metal/PMRC age wilting under the heavy brooding of Alternative rock already. Like the town in Footloose, I struggled to view this town as real. It seemed like a caricature of censorship and deep South beliefs. And, knowing that the events were true, I found myself questioning the presented story more and more and viewing this retelling as a caricature.
The acting is terrific (but, we do have 2 Oscar winners here, so what did you expect?), and the story is compelling. Cinematography is excellent, and the setting is unsettling. It left me quite frustrated, but that is the nature of these films. It ends abruptly, and I felt that the filmmakers were trying hard not to take liberties with assertions against other suspects. It definitely peaked my interest to read more about these murders and is worth the watch. There are some horrific images here, but this is more of drama than a horror film.
Devil’s Knot comes out tomorrow (June 10th) on Blue Ray and DVD.