Film Review: Devil’s Knot (USA, 2013)

Devil's Knot (2014) -- exclusive EW.com image

A dark thread is strung throughout Devils Knot, the latest feature from Egoyan in which the unnerving act of a real-life case of child murder looms from beginning to end, with the sense of dread carried out well enough for the film to stick with you long after the credits. Unfortunately, awkward pacing speeds through the films more effectives sequences, focuses on the dull, and leaves viewers with absolutely no sense of real closure.

The 1993 murders of three eight-year old children was a very real, very disturbing case documented in the 2002 crime novel by Mara Leveritt on which Devils Knot is based. Religion is a strong element in the film, with opposing sides driving the case and eventual courtroom drama misfires as devil worshippers come into the picture and are unfortunately hung out to dry without any proper legal process. The film can be taken as a lesson on the frequent disharmony between religion and reality, and the film hammers the message into us quite well; it’s just a shame that it relies on a very minimal number of great scenes, driven by world-class performances, than any actual consistency.

West of Memphis grounded the actual events much better, and Paradise Lost had a certain rawness that isn’t recaptured here; the only thing Devils Knot does is layer on some much style and drama that the leads – Reese Witherspoon and Colin Firth – are the only aspects of the film that work best, doing so with inspired performances that effectively capture the uncomfortable fallout from three horrific murders.

Justice is driven so far off the track in this movie that the film effectively invokes rage – a good thing. Egoyan’s better films have always involved dark secrets and frustrating lies; in Devils Knot the lies are so dense and entirely illegal that the recount is almost one-sided, sticking to one singular perspective while the Arkansas authorities are painting in the worst possible picture.

The accused trio of teenagers, Jessie Misskelley, Damien Echols, and Jason Baldwin, are portrayed well, bouncing between irreverence and eventually realising the gravity of their convictions. However, we don’t spend near enough time with the accused to involve us in their plight, rather leaving it to us to crucify the town for being so morally blinded by their own rage and hypocritical discrimination.

Alas, Devil’s Knot does well to involve the viewer, right up until the point where it slaps us in the face and refuses to let us journey any further into this immense tragedy, leaving us with a couple of sentences detailing scenes which could have been included had the film not wasted so much time in the middle.

Review Score: TWO AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Running Time: 114 Minutes

Devil’s Knot is released in Australia from July 24 through Icon Films

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Chris Singh

Chris Singh is the Deputy-Editor-At-Large of the AU review, loves writing about travel and hospitality, and is partial to a perfectly textured octopus. You can reach him on Instagram: @chrisdsingh.