On May 5th 1993, three young boys were found hogtied and submerged in a creek with their bodies mutilated. In the wake of that particularly heinous crime, and the subsequent media frenzy, the West Memphis police department assisted the state of Arkansas in convicting three teens for the atrocity; Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Miskelly Jr (WM3). The zeitgeist of the time was to blame these alleged abhorrent acts on these so called "satanic teens" and their occult beliefs. In the years that followed filmmakers, celebrity supporters, and a vocal public conducted a relentless crusade to illuminate the greed, political manipulation, negligent policing and mass media misdirection that stood in the way of justice for these three misunderstood teens. On August 19th 2011, their defence brokered a plea with the Arkansas Supreme court that led to their immediate release.
After the veritable odyssey of the Paradise Lost documentary series this reviewer though the idea of West of Memphis was redundant. However, the overwhelming and gut wrenching ‘black hole’ you’re left with at the end of the Paradise Lost series is that the perpetrator of these heinous crimes was never brought to justice. Director of West of Memphis Amy Berg's illuminating thesis approaches the case with hindsight and thus posits jaw dropping new insights into those who used the case as a springboard for their career and thus protected its outcome; and more importantly singles out the elephant sized prime suspect in the room, that to this day escapes conviction. The fact that the WM3 were imprisoned is really only half the story, the blind spot is that the real murderer remains free.
Berg’s documentary is like gamma radiation to your inner ‘Hulk.’ There are moments during your viewing that may find you LOUDLY reacting to the affronting stupidity of the law enforcement officials stationed at the seven circles of this hellish situation. And yet it’s soothed by the Betty Ross presence of inspirational artists (filmmakers [and producers] Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh; musicians Eddie Vedder, Henry Rollins, The Dixie Chicks et al) that directly intervened to finance a multi-pronged investigative attacks on the methods of the West Memphis judicial system.
While there’s not necessary the cathartic closure of the true criminals being brought to justice, there’s finally comfort that not only has the crusade for the WM3’s freedom been successful but there’s a visually mesmerising document of independent investigative thoroughness that points the finger at the prime suspect. What we (the audience) do from here is on us.
West of Memphis caps off the Paradise Lost/West Memphis Three saga with a line up full of perpetrators including the media, the West Memphis PD, the legal establishment and suspect gift wrapped with a smoking gun.
[rating=4] and a half
BLAKE HOWARD IS A FILM CRITIC & THE EDITOR-IN-CHIEF/CO-FOUNDER OF AUSTRALIAN FILM BLOG GRAFFITI WITH PUNCTUATION . BLAKE IS THE HOST OF THE ONE HEAT MINUTE PODCAST. BLAKE IS ALSO A MEMBER OF THE PRESTIGIOUS ONLINE FILM CRITIC SOCIETY (AND A MEMBER OF THE GOVERNING COMMITTEE), IS A CO-HOST OF GAGGLE OF GEEKS ON SYDNEY'S 2SER COMMUNITY RADIO, A COLUMNIST AT THE AUSTRALIAN ONLINE INSTITUTION DARK HORIZONS AND SWAYS THE TOMATO METER WITH ROTTEN TOMATOES APPROVED REVIEWS.