Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky


Shock value can go along way in film, but little if nothing at all is as shocking as the opening scene of Paradise Lost. As the West Memphis police crime scene video exposes the three little naked eight-year-old bodies that were tortured, raped and killed on May 5, 1993, it's astonishing that such a thing could be publicly shown. What unfolds afterwards is just as shocking. Days after the bodies were discovered, three teenage, black-clad outsiders — Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Miskelley — later nicknamed "the West Memphis Three," were pegged as local Satanists and immediately condemned for the crimes, after Miskelley, a 17-year-old with an I.Q. of 72, was coaxed into confessing. Guilty before proven innocent, the WM3 are tried and convicted right in front of the viewer's eyes. Berlinger and Sinofsky (Metallica: Some Kind of Monster) capture nearly every detail, from interviewing the parents of both the accused and victims to all the witness testimonies in order to make sure no stone is unturned. As the evidence is presented it becomes clear that in this small Arkansas town the citizens weren't looking for a fair trial, they were looking for a witch-hunt — and they got it. As ignorant and unsympathetic as the accused seem throughout, they are too much of an easy target. The stepfather of one of the victims throws an interesting wrench into the story, almost as if it was scripted. A true God-fearing Christian and gun-toting redneck, John Mark Byers becomes a suspect when information linking him to a possible murder weapon is presented in court. It's this moment where you feel a sense of elation, almost as if you're in the middle of a soap opera's finest twist. From there on in, the film becomes blurred with reasonable doubt, yet only from the viewer. You're left feeling like you're part of a hung jury; clearly not enough evidence was presented to convict these three, but at the same time, where were their alibis? The questions afterwards are plentiful, but that's what makes Paradise Lost such a commanding puzzle of a film. Plus: exclusive trial footage, timeline, updates. (Creative Thinking/HBO/Paradox)