Once again, filmmakers Bruce Sinofsky and Joe Berlinger return to Arkansas to follow the progression of the case that was referred to as the case of the “West Memphis Three”, Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin, and Jessie Misskelley Jr, all convicted of three counts of capital murder for the triple murder of three 8 year old boys in the Robin Hood Hills woods in West Memphis, Arkansas in 1993. The trial was a media spectacle, and Sinofsky and Berlinger had unprecedented access to the case, the police, the victims, and the accused.
Here, they return to examine the impact their film had on the case, and how that translated to the national consciousness. It features a group of people that believe in the innocence of the West Memphis Three, and were dedicated to seeing them freed. In this film, they get back up with John Mark Byers, the step-father of the murdered Christopher Byers, who, at this point, had become a large figure in the case, suspected by Echols of being the real killer, and facing questions about the mysterious death of his wife, who died at home from undetermined causes.
Much of the film focuses on the people trying to get the West Memphis Three freed, and the possibility of evidence that was never covered in the first trial, as well as the appeal process undergone by Echols because he believed his original lawyers took money for the film and it created a conflict of interest, thus giving him an unfair trial. Still, the mysteries surrounding the case only continue to grow, as the same judge denies another of Echols’ appeal, while Echols speaks out about Byers and his odd behavior.
Byers becomes his own worst enemy in this film, constantly denouncing and condemning the West Memphis Three, especially Echols, throughout the entire film, going so far as to make mock graves for the three and then burn them in a theatrical show of….is it vengeance? Or remorse? The filmmakers let you decide, while explaining that Byers has full dentures, which he got in 1997, yet he continues on about how he got them before the boys were killed, and gives several conflicting accounts of why he got dentures, none of which really makes any sense, leading most to believe he got the teeth removed because he knew there could possibly be bite mark evidence that had surfaced. Byers also sits to take a lie detector test, where he is obviously heavily sedated on the five medications he takes daily, one of which being the strong dose of benzodiazapene in the form of Xanax. While he celebrates his imagined ‘victory’, people watching grow only further convinced he has something serious to hide, especially when he slurringly says “after my wife was murdered”. Was it a Freudian slip? Did he mean his son? Or did he just mean his wife, which would implicate him as murderer?
Many viewers only became frustrated with Paradise Lost 2: Revelations, saying it focused too much on the people trying to free Echols, and not enough on the new developments in the case, which wouldn’t gain any real heat until DNA testing laws were passed the year after this film came out. So much of it is a rehash, catching up with the people that were the focus of the first film, and seeing how the case has progressed (or hasn’t). It’s not as shocking and heart-churning as the first film, but it’s a good companion piece, especially knowing there is a third film out, the Academy Award-nominated Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory. Watch for that review next.