Devil's Knot is a 2013 American biographical crime film directed by Atom Egoyan. The film is based on a true story as told in Mara Leveritt's 2002 book of the same name, concerning three teenagers known as the West Memphis Three, who were convicted of killing three young boys during the Satanic ritual abuse panic. They were subsequently sentenced to death (Echols) and life imprisonment (Baldwin and Misskelley). Produced by Elizabeth Fowler, Richard Saperstein, Clark Peterson, Christopher Woodrow, and Paul Harris Boardman, the film stars Colin Firth, Reese Witherspoon, Mireille Enos, Dane DeHaan, Kevin Durand, Bruce Greenwood, Stephen Moyer, Elias Koteas, Amy Ryan, and Alessandro Nivola.
The film premiered at the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival on September 8, 2013, followed by a wider release later that year. The film had a limited release in Canadian theaters on January 24, 2014, and was released in U.S. theaters and video on demand services on May 9, 2014.
In 1993, in the working class community of West Memphis, Arkansas, three eight-year-old boys – Stevie Branch, Christopher Byers, and Michael Moore – go missing from their neighborhood. After an extensive search, their bound and beaten bodies are found the next day. The community and the police department are convinced that the murders are the work of a satanic cult, due to the violent and sexual natures of the crime. A month later, three teenagers – Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin, and Jessie Misskelley Jr. – are arrested after Misskelley confesses following approximately 12 hours of interrogation. They are taken to trial, where Baldwin and Misskelley are sentenced to life, and Echols to death, all the while still proclaiming their innocence.
On May 5, 1993, three eight-year-old boys (Stevie Branch, Christopher Byers, and Michael Moore) went missing from their neighborhood in West Memphis, Arkansas. After an extensive search, their bound and beaten bodies were found the next day. The religious community and small police department were convinced that the murders were the work of a satanic cult, due to the violent and apparent sexual nature of the crime. A month later, three teenagers (18-year-old Damien Echols, 16-year-old Jason Baldwin, and 17-year-old Jessie Misskelley, Jr.) were arrested after Misskelley, who was mentally handicapped, confessed after twelve hours of interrogation. Despite the lack of evidence connecting them to the crimes, they were convicted; Baldwin and Misskelley were sentenced to life, and Echols to death. All three maintained their innocence, and hired forensic experts and investigators to re-examine the evidence, which eventually lent credibility to their claims of innocence. The new evidence uncovered new unidentified DNA and several hairs, one of which tied Branch's stepfather to the murders. This earned them powerful support, including celebrities and even the families of two of the murdered children. Despite this, their appeals were rejected by a judge and state prosecutors.
In August 2011, after the defendants had been incarcerated 18 years, the Arkansas Supreme Court granted an evidentiary hearing and had a new judge determine whether or not the new evidence entitled the three men to a new trial. On August 19, they were allowed to walk free after reaching an agreement with prosecutors and giving "Alford pleas" in exchange for time served. To date, they are working towards a full exoneration and have vowed to find the real murderer of the three children.
Colin Firth was confirmed to have joined the cast on May 21, 2012. More casting announcements were made on June 27, 2012. The film was produced by Elizabeth Fowler, Richard Saperstein, Clark Peterson, Christopher Woodrow and Paul Harris Boardman, and the screenplay was written by Boardman and Scott Derrickson. The first image from the set was revealed on June 26, 2012.
Filming began on June 16, 2012 in Georgia, cities of Morrow and Atlanta. The courthouse scenes were filmed at the Bartow County Courthouse in Cartersville.
The world premiere was held at the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival on September 8, 2013. Image Entertainment purchased the distribution rights after its premiere. The film was released in Canadian theaters (both English and French) on January 24, 2014.
Devil's Knot received negative reviews; it currently holds a 21% rating on review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes based on 75 reviews. The general consensus states: "Director Atom Egoyan's noble intentions are impossible to deny, but Devil's Knot covers fact-based ground that's already been well-traveled with multiple (and far more compelling) documentaries, adding nothing worthwhile along the way." On Metacritic, the film has a 42/100 rating, indicating "mixed or average reviews".