MPAA Rating: Unrated
Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory is the final film in a trilogy that has gone on for almost 20 years by Bruce Sinofsky and Joe Berlinger. Paradise Lost – The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills and Paradise Lost 2 – Revelations both previously took us into the case of the West Memphis 3, three teenagers (at the time) who were charged and convicted of murdering 3 small boys in a horrific manner and the many miscarriages of justice that occurred during the case. This 3rd film brings us back to West Memphis, Arkansas 10 years after the last one and updates us on things some of the greatest law enforcement minds in the world have discovered about the case.
The Paradise Lost series of films draw a lot of reactions. I personally count them among the best documentary films of all time. But since these are documentaries and they are dealing with reality and real stakes and really horrific things there are people who watch them appalled by the people who worked this case and others who are convinced of the WM3′s guilt. I don’t know how you can watch these films and have any doubts about their innocence, but they are documentaries and editing can do a lot (which this film itself shows). Anyway I’m going to review this film assuming you’ve seen the other 2 entries in the series. If not I highly recommend watching them as soon as possible. You should also be warned that this film does contain very graphic real crime scene footage of murdered children and is hard to watch at moments.
Paradise Lost 3 starts off strong with the filmmakers acknowledging outright that they’ve become a part of the story themselves and might be a little less than objective. Then it goes into the familiar helicopter shot of the forest with Metallica’s “Sanitarium” playing over the credits. Crime scene footage and family reactions kind of refresh the memory but also really re-iterate how much of a horrible crime this was.
I was personally surprised to see the stepfather of one of the victims, John Mark Byers the first time he came on screen in footage from 2010. I would have thought that after Paradise Lost 2, which basically accused him of the murders he wouldn’t want to be associated with these filmmakers at all. But this movie cancels out things said about him in that one. He’d been an advocate of the WM3′s guilt, but he himself admits that he was wrong and that as soon as he was able to take a logical look at the evidence, especially the new evidence it’s clear that these 3 boys are innocent and he’s now on their side. Some wonderful closure here.
The film then goes back to the beginning, the original trial and film. We’re shown old footage as well as never before seen stuff (there’s also a lot more if you happen to have HBO On Demand, I suggest going there and watching some deleted scenes. They might also be on HBO’s website.). In this way we discover a lot more of what was going on. There’s current interviews with most of the people involved in the previous films and it really is amazing the things time can reveal.
We’re presented with new evidence that even further proves the innocence (way beyond any reasonable doubt) of the 3 men accused of this crime who have been locked up for most of their lives, with one waiting on death row. This evidence is powerful and if you didn’t already walk away from the other films feeling angry, you’ll come away with this one seething.
Another suspect is put forth by the filmmakers. I thought that out of anything this might have been a misstep. They spent basically a whole film accusing one person of these crimes and now they’re turning around and doing it to another person and it feels very kinda, oh maybe you should be careful here. They actually do handle this new accusation with a little more tact and just lay out some facts and say it could have not been this person. Literally in the past few days though even more evidence has come to light (I believe thanks to people seeing this movie) that kinda puts a serious eye on this person. The odd thing is that a lot of the footage and facts in this part come from a lawsuit involving the Dixie Chicks. It’s almost surreal.
The movie ends and then there’s an epilogue that had to be added on after the film premiered at the Toronto Film Festival as there was a major break in the case that occurred that needed to be included. It doesn’t feel just tacked on, but I would have enjoyed more about this part of the case. But I was pretty happy with the job the filmmakers did with adding this on and not making it feel like an afterthought.
Overall this is an incredible, must see film. It will upset you and it ought to. It’s not a political matter, it’s a matter of justice. And on a different level it is an examination of how having a camera on something can change things. There’s a whole level of documentarian involvement with their subjects (that runs through all 3, but especially 2 & 3). You really have to see this.
Right now if you have HBO, you can just turn on HBO On Demand or HBO Go and start watching right now. They also have the other 2 films playing right now as well and some deleted scenes that are also must see and uncover even more. If you don’t have HBO, currently you’re out of luck but I’m sure you’ll see a DVD release by this summer. For now you can get the other 2 films though: