Directed by Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky, Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills is the story of the murder of three eight-year old boys in West Memphis, Arkansas as three young teenagers are accused of murder. The documentary explores a small town being torn apart by these gruesome murders which leads to a trial as these three teenagers try to maintain their innocence. The result is a very harrowing yet evocative documentary from Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky. Paradise Lost is a harrowing yet chilling documentary about the West Memphis 3 and the murders that happened.
The documentary tells the story of an entire year from the day of May 3, 1993 when the bodies of Christopher Byers, Michael Moore, and Stevie Branch were found at a ditch in the woods of West Memphis, Arkansas. Three teenagers named Jessie Misskelley Jr., Damien Echols, and Jason Baldwin were accused of the murders as its first hour focuses on the murder and Misskelley’s confession that led to the arrest of Echols and Baldwin. Notably as some believe that Misskelley’s confession was false and forced upon a kid who was scared. The film’s following hour-and-a-half focuses on the Echols/Baldwin trial as they are accused of Satanic rituals which they deny while Christopher Byers’ stepfather Mark is alleged to be a suspect because of a knife he had.
Throughout the story, the parents of the victims and the accused are interview as they each share their own feelings about what happened. The victims parents including Mark Byers each express their own hatred for the accused as Byers hopes that the day they die, he spits in their graves for what they did. There’s a scene of Byers and Michael Moore’s father having a shooting practice at a pumpkin which express the hatred these two fathers have for these teenagers.
Though directors Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky don’t try to portray any of the people interviewed as caricatures but as real people dealing with grief and in the situations they’re in. Particularly the accused as they’re often seen as being different because they wear black, have interest in the occult, and listen to heavy metal music. The most interesting person of the accused is Damien Echols who truly understands what is going on as he and Baldwin try to maintain their innocence. Even their family backs them up while there’s a scene where the girlfriend of Misskelley’s father tries to tell him to cut him off.
In the presentation of the film, Berlinger and Sinofsky create a documentary that is set in this small Arkansas town with aerial shots of the town as well as wandering, hand-held camera work on the actual location where the bodies are found told in the span of nearly a year. The duo choose to create a film where they observe everything that is happening as they let everyone from the families, the accused, attorneys, and various other locals get a chance to say something where they’re revealed to be just human beings that have something articulate to say. They’re not these poor, rural people from the South but real people who are affected by these murders.
Through the camera work of Robert Richman and the editing provided by Berlinger and Sinofsky, the film explores a lot of what happens through news footage of the trial and various news reports. While the film is quite long for its 150-minute running time where the pacing does lag a bit in some of the interviews and conversations between lawyers. It does reveal what goes on and what the defense team tries to do while there’s also some people who try to help the families deal with the media over the case. The film’s soundtrack is largely dominated by the music of Metallica that plays to the dark mood of the case as it’s the music that Echols and Baldwin are fond of.
Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills is a very gripping yet unsettling documentary from Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky. While it’s not an easy film to watch as it features some very graphic and gruesome images of death. It is still an intriguing one that uncovers the West Memphis 3 case and how it would progress in its following films. In the end, Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills is a haunting film from Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky.
Joe Berlinger & Bruce Sinofsky Films: (Brother’s Keeper) - (Where It’s At: The Rolling Stone State of the Union) - Paradise Lost 2: Revelations - Metallica: Some Kind of Monster - Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory
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