When the bodies of 8 year-old boys Stevie Branch, Michael Moore, and Christopher Beyers were found in a creek with gruesome cuts and scratches all over their bodies including their genitalia the scene was so horrific, it enraged the whole community. Collectively they asked, “who could do something like this?” Considering the strange and brutal nature of the murders, Satanic ritual seemed to be the only plausible answer, leading police to Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin, and Jessie Misskelly. Deemed “The West Memphis 3″ these teenage boys were aggressive, dark, and disrespectful of authority. For the prosecution, getting the guilty sentence was easy, but it was not honest. The details of what went wrong to land 3 apparently innocent young men in jail and on death row, and what went into freeing them are elegantly laid out in WEST OF MEMPHIS, Amy Berg’s (DELIVER US FROM EVIL) illuminating documentary.
WEST OF MEMPHIS owes much to PARADISE LOST, the trilogy of documentaries which played a vital role in spreading awareness of the injustice and promoted the activism that helped the West Memphis 3 win their freedom. Berg’s documentary does not echo PARADISE LOST, but rather, builds upon it and shows how it effected the key players in the story. Much like the outrage that ignited the community following the discovery of the bodies of the murdered children, WEST OF MEMPHIS shows the outrage of the millions of people involved in the “Free the West Memphis 3″ movement. However, in this story which has a lot of pain and anger, Amy Berg focuses on the overwhelming dedication and love exhibited by the West Memphis 3, their families, friends on the outside, and the countless strangers who fought for them.
Perhaps the most engaging aspect of WEST OF MEMPHIS is the way in which the ever-increasing number of people close to the WM3, including the film’s producer, Peter Jackson, get more and more energized as each piece of evidence comes to the surface and the narrative told by the prosecutors begins to unravel. Though the fight was very long and not without its share of roadblocks, their conviction and positivity is nothing short of inspiring. However, it is impossible to forget at the heart of this story is the tragic death of 3 innocent lives. With every new discovery, questions about who did not commit the crime are settled, but that only leaves us to wonder who is really responsible for the death of Stevie, Michael, and Christopher.