Friday, May 28, 2010

Life With Murder [movie review]

* The following review from the Hot Docs festival was written for Toronto Screen Shots
20-year-old Mason Jenkins murdered his 18-year-old sister with multiple shotgun blasts to the head on January 6, 1998. The crime occurred in the home he resided in with his only sibling and parents, in the small town of Chatham, Ontario, and Mason was convicted of first-degree-murder after his shaky alibi was deemed not credible. Mason maintained his innocence until 2007, when he finally relented and provided a strange, irrational reason for having committed the crime on his sister, who he'd apparently always been close to. Despite the hell their son put them through, the parents, Leslie and Brian, still choose to keep him in their lives, making regular visits to Mason at Warkworth Institution, a medium-security correctional facility.
Director/writer/producer John Kastner, a three time Emmy winner, has a veritable goldmine of bizarre, intriguing details to work with in Life With Murder (no official site or IMDB page), with a fairly equal balance given to both a dissection of the crime, and the consequences and aftermath from it. Neither side is easy to watch, especially the latter. Kastner presents a thorough probing of the case, having gained access to police interrogation videos, the 9-1-1 call, crime scene documentation, and interviews with detectives from the case. The interrogation videos are quite fascinating to watch, but the interviews with the grieving parents, some from just mere hours after the murder occurred, are disturbing and uncomfortable viewing. The fact that the mother herself made repeated requests to the Chatham police to release the tapes for inclusion in the film doesn't make the experience of watching them feel any less invasive or wrong.
Credit Kastner with digging deep to uncover previously unheard details about the case, including an exploration of Mason's belated confession, not to mention a blindsiding bombshell about the crime that ratchets up the creep factor by several notches. Despite the rich ingredients with which to work, Kastner's movie left me feeling unfulfilled and empty, like it should have had much more of an impact. Leslie's statement that "you don't throw a kid away" and the unconditional love she and Brian have for Mason, even after what he did (and especially after that bombshell, which I won't spoil) just seem totally at odds with logic and reason, and only added to my frustration with the movie. Another mystery: the parents never moved out of the home where the murder took place. The film also ends up playing as something less cinematic and more suited to television, like an extended version of the CBC's The Fifth Estate (which isn't a knock on that program, as they do a lot of excellent work).
Rating: ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆

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