Devil’s Knot is not for the feint-hearted – a drama about a disturbing triple murder and the serious miscarriage of justice that took place as authorities moved to calm community fears. However it also highlights the sort of justice we long for as human beings, as well as our inability to deliver it.
Based on the best-selling book of the same name, Devil’s Knot centres on the real murder of three boys in West Memphis, Arkansas in 1993 and the accusations, investigations and controversy that followed. Reese Witherspoon plays a very believable mother to eight-year-old Stevie Branch who goes riding with his friends Christopher Byers and Michael Moore one afternoon after school. Their failure to return home sparks a town-wide search that eventually results in a grisly discovery. Their naked bodies are found hog-tied at the bottom of a local creek and the police conclude their murders are the result of a satanic ceremony. Suspicion settles on three teenagers who are fond of wearing black and heavy metal music. They are arrested and their ‘satanism’ revealed in court. However independent investigator Ron Lax (Colin Firth) believes the wheels of justice have, in this case, moved far too quickly. As the true story unfolds it becomes clear the hysteria that resulted in the teenagers’ arrest might also have allowed the actual killer to walk free.
Devil’s Knot contains some very disturbing pictures that make it hard to watch, particularly if you are a parent. Even more so when you remember it’s the dramatization of a true story. However they also serve to explain the depth of feeling that arises in the West Memphis community. Death is an unwelcome stranger at any time; the violent death of innocents a thousand times so. Witherspoon provides a portrait of a Christian mother struggling to come to terms with the evil that has enveloped her family. The town’s community of believers drift in and out of her personal hell, some raining down damnation on the accused while others treat her as an object of pity, even suspicion. But it is her need to know the truth that drive’s the plot.
Devil’s Knot opens with a line from the prosecution’s key witness, often repeated throughout the film:
“We all went down there…to that place they call Devil’s Den. And nobody knows what happened but me.”
– but it doesn’t take long for the audience to realise that no human can lay claim to that sort of knowledge. The well-intentioned police are hopelessly inept, the crowd too consumed with rage to see things clearly. So we finish Devil’s Knot not set free by the courts but tied up with a longing for justice.
Personally, I think the desires to see truth revealed and evil punished is evidence of the image of God – however tarnished – persevering in the hearts of human beings. Yet if Devil’s Knot proves anything it’s that without eyewitnesses of unquestionable integrity, evil regularly goes unpunished. But thankfully this is what our all-seeing God provides.
God was there in West Memphis that day. There are no secrets from Him. What’s more, He presides over a courtroom that has all the evidence because its looks on the hearts of those involved. Finally, God promises a judgment that will be both unbiased and above legal subterfuge. Everyone will be treated equally and receive the punishment justice requires. I for one am glad that He will ensure the ones responsible for the death of those three boys will not escape, though I understand that this might not comfort some who are grieving now. You can’t be consoled by God if you don’t trust in His compassion as well as His justice. But I remind myself that our God lost His Son too, and so that we might avoid our own day in court.
Release Date: July 24, 2014