Friday, March 13, 2015

Netflix Instant Queue Movie Review: "Devil's Knot" (2014)

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Movie"Devil's Knot"
Director: Atom Egoyan
Year: 2014
Rating: NR
Running Time: 1 hour, 54 minutes

When three children are murdered in West Memphis, Arkansas, a panic erupts around the city. The highly religious town looks to blame devil worship and claims a ritualistic sacrifice as the motive for these killings. After police coax a confession from mentally deficient teen Jessie Misskelley (Kristopher Higgins) and he names Damien Echols (James Hamrick) and Jason Baldwin (Seth Meriwether) as the main perpetrators, the police believe they have their killers. Even though there is no physical evidence against the boys, Damien's interest in the occult and Wicca, as well as the police's insistence that this was a satanic sacrifice, has the public believing they are guilty in the court of public opinion long before the trial ever starts. 

Before we begin our review of this movie, we want to point out that, if you look back through recent history, every decade has an "ism." Whether or not you've noticed this, we know this in our hearts to be true. The "ism" in the instance of the 1990's, when the case involving the West Memphis Three was going on, was satanism. People from both large and small towns alike were accused of ritualistic sacrifices, child abuse, involvement in witchcraft and the occult, murder and even animal mutilation. One small phrase whispered to the wrong person could raise serious eyebrows, and one anonymous phone call could even get the law involved, with or without direct evidence against the accused. The court of public opinion possesses more power than it needs and is given more credit than it deserves. Without so much as stepping foot into a real courtroom, people could go from having seemingly normal lives to having their kids snatched away in the middle of the night under the guise of "their own protection," or people could have been thrown in jail for accusations of animal mutilation, or in this case, even being accused of murder. We know too well the effects of these wrongful accusations and whispers for the so called "greater good" as they have the ability to forever change those involved. 

The trial of the West Memphis Three is a pretty widely known murder case. It is one that will spark controversy no matter which side you fall on. Whether you believe that the police and prosecutors ignored other leads and suppressed evidence, as well as created public panic towards a wild occult story to garner a conviction based on purely circumstantial evidence; or, if you believe Damien and his friends were actually part of a satanic cult who sacrificed the 3 little boys to devil, it is not really important. The men involved served almost two decades of prison time and, in an effort to get out of jail, copped to an Alford Plea deal, wherein they are currently allowed to maintain their innocence, but must admit their guilt beyond the shadow of a doubt on the record. Though these are the facts, and even though it seems like we have just laid them all out anyways, we're not here to discuss the case itself, just the movie. 

As an avid follower of the West Memphis Three case for the last decade or so, I can tell you that this movie is basically an overly dramatized version of the fabulous documentary series "Paradise Lost." This is a pretty boring movie that plods along like a clumsy tortoise, never fully gripping its audience and never really pulling them into the story. Anytime you have a movie based on actual events, there is bound to be dramatization, but in this case, it's not for the better. The makers of this film needed to find a balance between the actual facts and any dramatic license it wanted to take to invoke an emotional response form its audience. "Devil's Knot" never does this as it plays out more like a reenactment of a Lifetime documentary than an actual film. We're sure that its filmmakers were drawing attention to the elements they really wanted to focus on, but it is not done in an engaging way. The aforementioned "Paradise Lost" HBO documentaries were more engaging and dramatic enough without taking any license with the story. With big stars like Reese Witherspoon and Colin Firth, we sure expected much better. All of the actors read their lines straight off the page, never giving much of feel to the people involved or what they really went through, especially those who play the parents of the murdered children. We never really experience their feeling of loss, and quite frankly, we don't even want justice or even revenge for them with the way their characters are portrayed. 

This mild-mannered movie didn't need to be made in the first place.

My Rating: 4/10
BigJ's Rating: 4/10
IMDB's Rating: 6.0/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 22%
Do we recommend this movie: No.
One year ago, we were watching: "RoboCop" (2014)

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