Directed by Atom Egoyan and based on a true story, and in turn on Mara Leveritt‘s novel Devil’s Knot: The True Story of the West Memphis Three, Devil’s Knot explores the savage murders of three eight-year-old boys in the small working-class community of West Memphis, Arkansas, in 1993. At the time, the murders sparked a controversial trial of three teenagers – Damien Echols (James Hamrick), Jessie Misskelley Jr. (Kristopher Higgins), and Jason Baldwin (Seth Meriwether) – known as the West Memphis Three, who are accused of killing the kids as part of a satanic ritual and subsequently sentenced to life in prison. But the truth may be scarier as a mother (Reese Witherspoon) and investigator (Colin Firth) suspect all is not as it appears.
Based on a real-life case, Devil’s Knot tells a haunting story and Egoyan doesn’t shy away from showing the distressing nature of the story in full effect. With three small, naked, and lifeless bodies being dragged from a river quite early on in the film, it’s hard to detach yourself from the story after that.
Parts of the story do feel slightly rushed and not fully detailed, but that’s the trouble with trying to fit such a huge case into a feature film. I did, however, enjoy that the story often returned to previously seen interviews and suspects to give more information or alternative coverage on scenes and characters that are quite easy to forget with the overload of information the audience is being given, refreshing our minds quite constantly to make you realise the many different and constantly changing sides to the story.
The focus on Colin Firth‘s character is a little confusing, when we needed to see a lot more of Reese Witherspoon‘s grief and of the two fathers we are made to question, but I guess the focus on the investigator is a story-telling technique. On a whole, the film did pique my interest in the case in general and I want to watch and read a lot more about it, but whilst I can agree with much of the negative reviews about Devil’s Knot being a mundane, restrained and cautious mystery, Egoyan’s attempt at a heart-breaking and gripping real-life thriller did make me cry twice, and I did feel very invested at times.
However, just like David Fincher‘s Zodiac, also based on a real-life case, the film concludes with a non-end which I found thoroughly frustrating. But when the whole story has been told, what are you to do? I may have been frustrated, but I was left with a lot of unresolved information to think about, with the story leaving you horrified at how the case was handled and curious towards the truth. And to be honest, that’s a good enough after-effect as a justified ending might have allowed.