Paradise Lost: The Child Murders At Robin Hood Hills (1996)

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Overall Rating 83%
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Ranked #2,508
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Connections: Paradise Lost

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Tony Brooks
Tony Brooks
Diana Davis
Diana Davis
Terry Wood
Terry Wood
Dick Clay
Dick Clay
Jenna Newton
Jenna Newton
Review by bluemeanie
Added: June 11, 2008
By now, most everyone with their ears to the ground have heard of the West Memphis Three. There is an annual benefit concert where the proceeds go towards their legal fees. Musicians like Eddie Vedder and Rage Against the Machine have been avid supporters of their release for years and years, wearing T-shirts and staging public events in their favor. But, despite all the hoopla, those three men are still in prison, rotting away for a crime they all very likely did not commit. "Paradise Lost" is the monumental documentary released in 1996 that chronicles the events that eventually lead to their being locked away. "Paradise Lost", in painful and accurate examination, takes a look at the murdered children, the teenagers accused of killing them, and the toll this takes on the families of everyone involved. It's simply one of the greatest documentaries ever made.

The whole ordeal begins when three small boys are found, naked and tied, in the woods around Robin Hood Hills. They have been drained of their blood, with their genitalia cut off. They have been sexually assaulted and then murdered. Three teenagers are brought in as suspects: Damien Echols, Jessie Miskelly and Jason Baldwin. They are accused of killing the boys due to their Satanist beliefs and the whole town rallies around them being the guilty parties. However, many believe they were only brought in as suspects because they wore black clothes and listened to Metallica. What ensues is a ridiculous trial in which the boys are eventually convicted with no concrete evidence whatsoever. To call it a miscarriage of justice would be an understatement. The film shows us videos of the court proceedings, along with interviews with the accused and the families of the accused and the families of the departed. Slowly, we start to see a clear picture of what probably happened and what likely did not happen. And, in the end, one man seems like an even likelier suspect, Christopher Byers, the step father of one of the deceased boys. "Paradise Lost" raises a lot of interesting questions about this case.

For some, this documentary is a little difficult to watch. It opens with actual crime scene video taken at the scene, showing the boys as they were found. It's pretty graphic and pretty hard to watch, but once you get past that first sequence, it evens out and only the spoken material is as disturbing. Directors Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky have set the entire film to music by Metallica, the band that likened the three teens to murderers. It is an appropriate response to the hysteria which led to their being locked away. To think that, in this day and age, someone can be locked away because of the clothes they wear and the music to which they listen. It's insane. But, the most interesting thing the filmmakers do is raise questions about other people who could be suspects, most notably Chris Byers, the stepfather of one of the dead children. Byers immediately comes across as a man with something to hide and his demeanor and speech are just downright unnerving. It's like he knows he has gotten away with something and is going to push it as far as he can, before he's found out.

For a real insightful examination of the legal system in this country and for a riveting portray of town hysteria, "Paradise Lost" is the film for you. It premiered on HBO when first released, but quickly gained standing in the film community and launched the career of Joe Berlinger. The sequel, "Revelations", came out a couple of years after that and is equally as commanding. "Paradise Lost" is one of the best documentaries you're ever going to see, if you can handle the very disturbing imagery at the beginning. A masterpiece.

Tristan #1: Tristan - added 06/11/2008, 06:01 PM
10/10 seems a little generous. It was a good movie, but nothing I'd hand a perfect to. 7/10
bluemeanie #2: bluemeanie - added 06/12/2008, 12:52 AM
Generous. This is a perfect documentary. It does things few docs ever manage to accomplish. It's in the vein of "The Thin Blue Line" by Errol Morris, but even a notch above that one.
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