March 31, 2015

Southern death cult

Devil’s Knot (Atom Egoyan, 2013). It’s almost refreshing to see a take on the West Memphis Three case that isn’t all about the Satanic charisma of Death Row survivor and New Age philosopher Damien Echols. Instead, Egoyan and writers Paul Harris Boardman and Scott Derrickson, adapting a book of the same name by true crime writer Mara Leveritt, return us to the moment of the murders and remind us of the real victims, telling the story through its impact on grieving mother Pamela Hobbs (Reese Witherspoon, at home) and, less successfully, investigator Ron Lax (a sleepy-looking Colin Firth). The specific context of hopelessly inept or simply corrupt Arkansas law enforcement, dubious “Satanic panic” experts and deeply entrenched Christian fundamentalism is laid out comprehensively and Egoyan juggles enough sub-plots to nod towards at least three other suspects, including the mysterious blood-covered man in the bathroom of the Bojangles restaurant. But Egoyan followers won’t be able to escape the feeling that he got into this tricky emotional territory – grieving communities, disappeared children – so much more effectively in Exotica and The Sweet Hereafter (does it help that two Exotica veterans, Elias Koteas and Bruce Greenwood, are here in support roles?). Those films felt like deep and lasting wounds; this is more surface-level.