Published Apr 30, 2010About 12 years ago in Chatham, ON, an 18-year-old girl named Jennifer Jenkins was found dead in her home with five gunshot wounds to the head and chest. Discovered by her parents, Brian and Leslie, Jennifer's murderer remained unknown, but the prime suspect was her 20-year-old brother, Mason, who, at the time, was missing.
Life with Murder combines preliminary interrogation footage with modern day interviews, showing Mason in prison, serving a 25-year sentence for his sister's murder, which he claims to have not committed. While chipping away at the truth of what happened back in January 1998, the documentary tells a far more astounding and recondite tale of family loyalty in the face of tragedy, with Brian and Leslie sticking by their son despite not knowing the truth.
Perhaps what is most vexing is the sense of haunting and resignation that hangs over the Jenkins family. Brian, sickly and inarticulate, seems a man reluctantly moving forward, defeated, while his wife holds things together out of necessity. Without understanding the experience, voyeuristically watching the trio eat a holiday meal together in the prison visiting quarters feels claustrophobic, challenging standard morality.
Director John Kastner is no stranger to compelling, difficult to watch fare, including the CBC elderly care doc Rage Against the Darkness and the Emmy winning examinations of breast cancer and leukaemia Four Women and Fighting Back. He understands how to reveal human drama with a surprising and fluid narrative that never lets up. Indeed, his work is stylistically and aesthetically standard nighttime news special fare, but it's nothing short of masterful on that front.
Murder is no exception, proving heart-wrenching and even nauseating, but exploring the depths of hope, suffering and uncertainty with maturity and understanding. The mystery is ultimately solved, as we find out the identity of Jennifer's murderer, but this is besides the point of a greater mystery, which is that of the human spirit. (NFB)