Devil’s Knot (2013), directed by Atom Egoyan


Unfocused dramatization of the events surrounding the 1993 murders of three 8-year-old boys in West Memphis, Arkansas, including the investigation, arrest, trials, and convictions of three teenage boys for the crimes. The teenagers, later known as the West Memphis Three, received additional notoriety when questions began to be raised about the case, with many believing that they are innocent. Based on a book of the same name by Mara Leveritt, who believes the teenagers were
targeted in a “witch hunt” similar to that which occurred in Salem, Massachusetts, in the late 1600s. The murders of the boys were linked by police and prosecutors to Satanism and Satanic ritual. Meanwhile, other leads, particularly one involving a black man who on the night of the murders reportedly entered a restaurant bleeding and disoriented, were ignored. That’s a lot of ground to cover for any dramatization, and there’s more besides, such as a woman and her son, both of whom appear to have lied to police: the woman about attending a satanic ritual with two of the accused, her son about having witnessed the murders.

More like a series of reenactments than a dramatization, the film fails to probe any aspect of the case or the people involved with any depth. That said, it opens well with Reese Witherspoon and young Jet Jurgensmeyer as mother and son, and the fateful if perfectly natural decision to allow the boy to go out riding bikes with his friends. The sequence ends with the discovery of the bodies. The bulk of the film, if viewed as a kind of primer on the case, is compelling enough, but those familiar with what happened may become bored by the wide-ranging superficiality of it all. Devil’s Knot is a deeply flawed film, but one which, for its subject matter and themes, may appeal to those interested in true crime.


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