Movie review: West of Memphis

I watched West of Memphis a.k.a. celebrities lavish praise upon themselves for singlehandedly freeing the West Memphis Three.

As far as I can see, the only thing this documentary added to Paradise Lost’s version of events was a degree of polish. It’s a neater documentary than the Paradise Lost trilogy and, as a newcomer to the case, you could watch and enjoy (‘enjoy’) it as a solid film.

(That said, the point of Paradise Lost is that it’s gritty and raw and in medias res. I love Paradise Lost. Watch Paradise Lost. Yes, even the bonkers second movie.)

I can’t really criticise West of Memphis as a piece of film-making. I can only express disappointment at what it wasn’t.

How on earth do you have Damien Echols as a producer on your movie and not choose to frame the story from his perspective? Okay, maybe Damien didn’t want to sit down and do a whole bunch of long, let’s-dig-up-your-trauma interviews. But I still maintain that, with just a small amount of narration from Echols, you could have framed the movie as ‘weird goth kid gets falsely imprisoned’, rather than showing the whole first half-hour of the movie from the conventional ‘small town struck by tragedy’ angle.

In general, there was a dearth of references to what Echols et al’s lives were like in prison (what, Damien getting raped in prison was too dark for your shiny Hollywood movie?) and little sense of the sheer length of time that they were imprisoned. When your movie exists alongside an already very well established trilogy of movies, surely you have to work hard to make yours distinctive.

Sure, there were some interesting new interviews in West of Memphis. (Though Stevie’s drug-addicted sister and Chinese whispers about “the Hobbs family secret” felt more queasily compelling that genuinely revelatory.) But all West of Memphis really added to make itself distinctive was… a bunch of celebrities talking. Hm.

P.S. Also, I know Echols is the cult hero, but I have nothing but love for Jason Baldwin. I would watch a whole documentary of Jason eating salad with cheese in it and proudly showing off the first suitcase he’s ever owned.