Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky, the filmmakers behind 1992's remarkable documentary Brother's Keeper, return to cover an even more fascinating murder trial in a film that originally aired on HBO in 1996. Paradise Lost follows the case of three second-graders murdered in West Memphis, Arkansas. Found mutilated and sexually abused in a backwoods stream, the bizarre murder led the Bible Belt community to suspect the involvement of a Satanic cult, a suspicion which eventually led to the arrest of three teenage heavy-metal fans. Whether the detailed confession of one of them—a boy with an IQ of 72—is valid is the central question of Paradise Lost, but Berlinger and Sinofsky's hands-off approach expertly allows them to capture all the surrounding aspects of the trial: from the sensationalized media coverage to the bungled police investigation to the violently maudlin public mourning of the victims' parents. Though cheapened slightly by a few moments in which it becomes clear that the filmmakers have withheld evidence until it can be used to dramatic effect, thereby raising doubts that we are getting the whole story, Paradise Lost is still a disturbingly unforgettable movie that should not be missed.
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