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Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory (2011)

New Video
DVD Released: 8/14/2012

All Ratings out of



Review by Mike Long, Posted on 8/2/2012

I've mentioned in the past that documentaries really aren't my thing, as I prefer escapist fantasy when I go to the movies. However, a good movie is a good movie, no matter the genre, and when talented filmmakers tell a compelling story, it's very easy to get roped in. This was certainly the case with 1996's Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills. This documentary told the story of the slaying of three eight-year old boys in the small town of West Memphis, Arkansas. Local police arrested three teenagers for the crimes -- Damien Wayne Echols, Jason Baldwin, and Jessie Misskelley. All three were poor kids from the wrong side of the tracks, and Damien was known for wearing all black and listening to heavy metal music. Despite the lack of any compelling physical evidence, all three were found guilty. Jason and Jessie were sentenced to life in prison, while Damien received the death penalty. The documentary not only profiled the suspects and showed us the trial, but it also introduced us to the polarizing people of West Memphis, including the parents of the slain children, the police officials involved and the judge overseeing the case.

Directors Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky returned to this story in 2000 with Paradise Lost: Revelations. This film focused on the media attention that Echols, Baldwin, and Misskelley -- now known as the West Memphis Three -- had received and had many individuals had taken up the cause of having the men freed. We also saw how new evidence had been brought to light which further showed that the three suspects were not involved, but others certainly were. However, the judge refused to hear this new evidence.

Which brings us to Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory. The movie opens with a recap of most everything which has happened up until now and this section includes footage which wasn't seen in the first two films. We then see that the three teens arrested back in 1994 are all grown men who have spent half of their lives in prison. We meet Lorri Davis, the woman who married Damien, despite the fact that he's on death row. We attend a press conference in which several experts, including famed FBI profiler John Douglas, appear to present new DNA evidence and other scientific data surrounding the case. We see how some in the community have changed their feelings towards the West Memphis Three and how others still feel that they are guilty. The movie also makes a point of showing that Terry Hobbs, the father of one of the victims, could be a potential suspect. The third act shows how the attorneys involved went before the Arkansas Supreme Court to ask that the new DNA evidence be looked at. The film concludes with a twist ending (rare for a documentary) in which an impromptu press conference is called to make an important announcement about the case.

As with the other films in the series, Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory is a compelling film. If you've seen the first two movies, then you probably have an investment in this story, and you want to see what is happening with the West Memphis Three (and is you haven't seen the first movies, don't worry, as the recap takes care of that). As usual, Berlinger and Sinofsky do a great job of blending their documentary footage with archive footage and TV news coverage. They somehow manage to interview most everyone involved and get some great quotes on camera.

But, Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory simply isn't as engrossing as its predecessors. Perhaps it's because going in I already knew the ending. The press conference mentioned above made national (international?) news and I had followed the story closely. The fact that 1/3 of the movie is a recap is also disappointing. It's great that new footage from the past was included, but I wanted the movie to get one with the new information. But, most of all, I wanted to know what happened next. Berlinger and Sinofsky were placed in a very difficult situation with the finale of this film. Essentially, the movie had been completed and was ready to be screened at a film festival when they received the call to bring their cameras to Arkansas. They include the surprising turn of events in the film, but then it ends. The revelation is so startling that we want to know how the West Memphis Three react to it and what they do with their lives after that.

As the title implies, Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory was meant to be a stop-gap, showing a situation which was stuck between two worlds. However, the story has moved beyond that now and we want to know more. I can only assume that Berlinger and Sinofsky will release another film which shows more of the true conclusion to the tale, but for now, this movie feels incomplete.

Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory offers a great use of an Elmer's science fair presentation board on DVD courtesy of New Video. The film features various aspect ratios throughout due to the various footage which is used, but most of it has been letterboxed at 1.78:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. Again, with the various types of footage, the quality of the image varies from scene to scene. The footage shot specifically for this movie is very sharp and clear, showing no grain and no defects from the source material. (It's very interesting to compare the footage shot in 2011 to that shot in 1994.) The DVD carries a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which provides clear dialogue and sounds. Being a documentary, for the most part the audio comes from the center and front channels. We do get some ambient sound through the surround speakers at times, most notably in crowd scenes. The music, most notably Metallica's "Welcome Home (Sanitarium)" sounds great.

The Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory DVD contain a handful of extras. We begin with four DELETED SCENES which actually come from Paradise Lost and not Paradise Lost 3. These scenes offer more views of the trial and an especially eye-opening scene where we see the prosecution and the defense meet and openly discuss a new piece of evidence. It's just weird to see the opposing sides having a casual meeting. "Press Day Panel Discussion" (7 minutes) has a discussion with Echols, Misskelley, Baldwin, Berlinger, and Sinofsky, following the release from prison for the three men. They discuss how they adjusting to life on the outside and their reactions to what it took to get out. "Interview with Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky" (5 minutes) allows the filmmakers to reflect on this series which they've been with for nearly two decades.

Review Copyright 2012 by Mike Long