Sunday, October 7, 2012

Another Look at the Shocking Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills: "Paradise Lost 2: Revelations" (2000)

Documentarians Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky return to Arkansas to follow up their film "Paradise Lost," and create a sequel that is better than the original.

The directors focus on the efforts of a group called Free the West Memphis 3, and the appeals process of Damien Echols, the "ringleader" of the satanic murders of three eight year olds years before.

The film also spends time with Mark Byers, a central figure in the first film, who is still crusading to keep the trio in prison. The WM3 group do not come off well at the beginning, coming off as a little flighty and starstruck. Mark Byers, who the film makers hinted may be a suspect in the murders, returns. His wife, one of the victim's mothers, has died under mysterious circumstances, and Byers continues his ranting and raving for the cameras.

Damien has changed, as well. No longer the primping goth from the first film (a death sentence and prison rape will probably do that to you), Echols has matured and is determined to get out of prison. Also here is the only remaining defense attorney, who brings in a profiler who finds a bite mark on an autopsy photo that everyone else missed.

Berlinger and Sinofsky focus the film around this new evidence, and play out a lie detector test Byers is taking, for all it is worth. Unlike the first film, this one is lean and focused, and still shocking, thanks to some very bloody crime scene photos. The profiler brought in is constantly grinning, not believing the trio were convicted on such flimsy evidence, especially a coerced confession by one of the boys that gets just about everything wrong.

The only fault I could find was the amount of time spent with Mark Byers, as unpleasant a man you will ever see. Between his adopted child's and wife's death, those around him elevate his status to a criminal mastermind when in fact he seems to put a lot of effort into placing one foot in front of the other. His ritual funeral for the killers and his graveside monologues are all long, creepy, and weird.

Also, thanks to the new popularity with forensics shows on The Discovery Channel, HBO, and the networks, the viewer needs the film makers to get into the details of the crime. Where all the suspects were that day, forensics evidence, time lines, alibis, DNA, etc.

"Paradise Lost 2: Revelations" covers new ground, but is already three or four years old. I hope Berlinger and Sinofsky will stay on this case, and let us know what is happening for years to come. (* * * * *) out of five stars.