Powerful, if flawed, but getting the trilogy makes more sense,
This review is from: Paradise Lost: The Child Murders At Robin Hood Hills / Revelations: Paradise Lost 2  [DVD] [NTSC] (DVD)
This set represents the 1st 2 films in the "Paradise Lost" trilogy, 3 documentaries, make
over a period of 15 years, following the case of 3 young men convicted of horrible murders
if very little evidence, and lots of questions. This set really only makes sense if you already
have the third film separately.
In any case, here are my notes on these first two of the three films;
Paradise Lost (1996) Powerful and thought provoking look at U.S. justice, and how we treat those who
are outsiders or 'different'.
When three very young boys are found brutally murdered, and mutilated, the town of West Memphis demands
retribution and closure. So, after some fruitless weeks of police work, the suspects become three outsider
teen-age boys, who listened to heavy metal, and the oldest of whom dressed (somewhat) Goth and was interested in Wicca.
A strong indictment of how, at least some of the time in our justice system 'guilty until proved innocent' is the rule.
That said, the film makes some serious miss-steps by not being clearer about some of the evidence it brings up, but never
explores. For example, we're told early on by the filmmakers that all 3 boys had alibis for the night of the killing, yet we never
hear about it again. Are their defense lawyers THAT bad, or were the alibis not solid? Two said they were home with their
families, yet the families never mention being with them that night. Similarly, we are never told why the police picked up the
first of the boys, a borderline mentally retarded kid, who clearly didn't know what was going on, for questioning. The
implication was that the cops wanted an easy pliable target, but the issue is never explored either by the defense, or by the film-makers.
In a 150 minute movie, there's no need for those kind of loose ends, leaving us to question whether we've seen a fair reporting of what went
on, or if there really was more evidence against the kids than we're shown.
Still it's a powerful and important examination of how we often rush to judgment, socially and legally. Recent history has shown this is far
from an isolated case - people are sent to prison, even death row on flimsy or incomplete evidence, coerced confessions, and by playing to
society's and a jury's fears and prejudices far more often then we would all like to believe.
Paradise Lost 2: Revelations (2000) Generally riveting follow up of the case where three quite possibly innocent young men sit in prison for
murdering three children.
Certainly, at least given what the two documentaries show, there is way beyond 'reasonable doubt' that they're responsible. But what was a
moderate flaw in the first film becomes worse here; In the same way the prosecution disturbingly made the evidence fit their theory, throwing
out, ignoring, or belittling what didn't fit, the film-makers seem to play some of the same game in reverse.
Crucial questions about alibis are never answered, and this sequel spends too much energy trying to pin guilt on Mark Byers, step-father
of one of the murdered boys.
Is there some spooky circumstantial evidence that he may have been involved? Absolutely. But proof? The man even voluntarily takes a lie
detector test, and passes with flying colors, which the film- makers then dismiss since the man is on various prescription mood altering
drugs. But do we ever hear an expert say those drugs might affect the test? No.
More disturbing, the film seems to imply he's guilty because he looks and acts weird, and says confusing and contradictory things, the very
sort of 'guilt by odd behavior' association both films attack in relation to the three boys found guilty. The fact that Byers (supposedly) has a
brain tumor, and what effect that might have on his outward behavior is never explored at all. And watching this character at such length starts
to get dull after a while, as his rants go on and on.
None-the-less, this is still a very interesting film, the most moving sections being those spent with the three now young men in jail for a
crime they very likely didn't commit. All have grown up a great deal in the 4 years since the last film, and are sad and articulate reminders of
how horrifying it can be that people never given the benefit of a fair trial are allowed to sit and rot in prison. And the amazing lack of
despair or bitterness they show is a testament to human resilience.