It's the second Paradise Lost story of the morning, but this one is rather different to Alex Proyas' celestial battle epic. Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky's trilogy of documentaries detailing the wrongful conviction of the West Memphis Three has just reached its conclusion, with the happy news of the three's release. And now Atom Egoyan (Exotica, The Sweet Hereafter, Adoration) is set to dramatise their story in Devil's Knot.
The Three are Jessie Misskelley, Damien Echols and Jason Baldwin, who were accused of murdering three eight-year-old cub scouts in a satanic ritual in 1993. Subsequent investigations, not least in the Paradise Lost films, have cast serious doubt on the original enquiry, however, and the consensus now is that the suspicion of the Arkansas locals due to the boys' heavy metal fandom was what convicted them, rather than much in the way of evidence. Metallica, who all three boys liked, helped publicise the case and the documentaries by allowing the use of their music.
While the three are now free though, the Arkansas judge stopped short of actually overturning their convictions, meaning Echols in particular is entitled to no compensation for his 17 years spent on Death Row.
Egoyan calls the affair, "a contemporary Salem witch hunt" and "an amazing story of a community and the conflicting emotional needs of seeking and finding justice, but also the complexities of jumping to conclusions."
"It was very clear to me that there was a miscarriage of justice," he says. "But more interesting to me were just the emotional human elements of the characters. It’s against the backdrop of this horrifying crime and this really unfortunate miscarriage that we all witnessed. I think the documentaries have done a really amazing job of showing that. But there’s a human drama behind it all as well."
The screenplay by Scott Derrickson and Paul Boardman is based on Mara Leveritt's book Devil's Knot: The True Story of the West Memphis Three, and focuses on the events surrounding the first trial. Rather than centre on the three, Egoyan says the film will be an ensemble drama encompassing the entire community.
"There’s a whole other narrative that I think presents itself, and that’s what really got me excited," he explains. "It's not dissimilar to The Sweet Hereafter, in that there’s this terrible tragedy, and people looking to make sense of it. But what’s haunting about this story is that the perpetrator is still free [and] justice has not been done for the three young victims. It is the most horrific crime imaginable, and the travesties within the legal process are quite jaw-dropping and were not really addressed. We can't do everything with this film, but I think we can touch on that..."
Shooting on Devil's Knot starts in the spring. Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory debuts at the Toronto International Film Festival next month.