Urban Cinefile  
 The World of Film in Australia - on the Internet Updated Friday May 22, 2020 


The savage murders of three school children sparks a controversial trial of three teenagers accused of killing the kids as part of a satanic ritual. (Based on a true story)

Review by Louise Keller:
There's something fundamentally dissatisfying about Atom Egoyan's film as it explores the shocking murder of three eight year old boys in North Memphis, Arkansas and the surrounding satanic cult theory. Based on a true story about which several documentaries have already been made (the most recent being Amy Berg's West of Memphis), the film's construct plays against it, wavering from its court room drama core to include a narrative focus involving Ron Lax the private investigator, played by a miscast Colin Firth, who looks like a pensive poet, mooching about in the wrong film. Reese Witherspoon does a fine job of portraying the grief and anger as the mother of one of the young boys, although the screenplay has much to answer for in making even this story thread appear manufactured.

The film begins by establishing a normal family scenario in May 1993 when Pam Hobbs (Witherspoon) collects her son Stevie Branch (Jet Jurgensmeyer) from school and watches him through the kitchen window as he rides away on his bike with two school friends. The scene showing Lax (Firth) successfully bidding at an auction for a piece of expensive antique furniture may establish his wealth in the context of his offering his services pro bono to assist the accused, but it feels like a construct, despite the fact his involvement in the case is key. His motivation to become involved in the case is not always clear which is frustrating, especially as representation of all other characters feels authentic.

Egoyan is most successful at creating the eerie atmosphere that brews under the haze of satanic worship and involves the three teenagers accused of the heinous crime. Michael Danna's music uses strings liberally to convey the sinister atmosphere and underlying demonic themes. James Hamrick is especially good as Damien Echols, the sullen, 18 year old with a history of self harm and who believes that power is in the blood. Also excellent are Dane DeHaan as Chris Morgan, and Alessandro Nivola as Witherspoon's screen husband Terry. But whether or not the film adds anything to the already excellent documentaries made, and gritty elements to the story, is questionable.

Email this article

Favourable: 0
Unfavourable: 0
Mixed: 1

(US, 2013)

CAST: Reese Witherspoon, Dane DeHaan, Mireille Enos, Colin Firth, Kevin Durand, Elias Koteas, Martin Henderson, Amy Ryan, Stephen Moyer, Bruce Greenwood, Alessandro Nivola,

PRODUCER: Elizabeth Fowler, Clark Peterson, Richard Saperstein, Christopher Woodrow

DIRECTOR: Atom Egoyan

SCRIPT: Paul Harris Boardman, Scott Derrickson (book by Mara Leveritt - The True Story of the West Memphis Three)


EDITOR: Susan Shipton

MUSIC: Mychael Danna


RUNNING TIME: 116 minutes



Urban Cinefile 1997 - 2020