Based on the notorious and heart-wrenching true story of the 1993 murders of three little boys, in West Memphis, Arkansas, Devil’s Knot begins just before the murders, introducing us to one of the victims, Stevie Branch, as a playful, happy child. When Stevie and his two friends disappear and are found brutally murdered days later, his mother Pam (Reese Witherspoon) must cope with the incomprehensible tragedy as the police search for clues and killers. Soon, three teenage outcasts are arrested amid allegations that the victims were the human sacrifices of a satanic cult. Occult panic soon sweeps the small community, and an all-out witch hunt ensues against the three teenage suspects, who were known to enjoy heavy metal music and at least one of whom dabbled in Wicca. Soon, the case sparks the interest of an investigator, Ron Lax (Colin Firth), who works tirelessly to uncover the truth and keep the three teenage suspects off death row.
The story of the West Memphis Three (as defendants Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley came to be known) has been told and retold over the past two decades, most famously in the Paradise Lost trilogy of extremely thorough documentaries (released in 1996, 2000 and 2011 respectively. For anyone who is familiar with the case or the documentaries, Devil’s Knot will not shed any new light on the mystery, though it does provide a useful primer for the uninitiated.
Egoyan’s strength as a director is in teasing out intimate moments of great emotional intensity, and when he focuses his camera one the lives of the families (of both the victims and those accused of the horrific crimes), the film is powerful and deeply moving. Unfortunately, a lot of time is spent on considerably less potent courtroom scenes, which don’t have the same resonance or impact as the quieter personal moments. The film features several solid performances, including Witherspoon as the grieving mom and Kevin Durand as the father of one of the other victims.
Is Devil’s Knot essential TIFF viewing?
With cast members like Reese Witherspoon and Colin Firth, and such famous subject matter, this film is sure to be released in some capacity, at some point in the not too distant future. Wait until then.
Devil’s Knot screening times
- Sunday, September 8 – 9:00 pm – Visa Screening Room (Elgin)
- Monday, September 9 – 9:00 am – TIFF Bell Lightbox
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