MPI // 2006 // 140 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Kristin Munson (Retired) // April 23rd, 2008
If a dramatization about serial killers is made without showing the victims, the killings, or much of the killers, is it really a serial killers movie at all?
Myra Hindley and Ian Brady are two of Britain's most infamous murderers. From 1963 to 1965, they tortured and murdered five (known) people between the age of 5 and 20 and buried their bodies on the local moors, returning to take pictures on the graves.
A set of title cards gives away all of this up front, so that you go into the movie knowing "whodunit" but not the why or the how and come out at the end of the two hours none the wiser. Made in cooperation with the victims' families, See No Evil is the exact opposite of sensational. In fact, it goes so far out of its way not to offend anyone, that it winds up not saying much at all.
Maureen and David are young and in love. They have a new baby, a dog, and their own flat. Just down the road is Maureen's sister, Myra, and her boyfriend. Myra and Ian are also young and in love. They have a new budgie, a dog, and their own flat. They also kill people.
See No Evil: The Story of the Moors Murders should really have made its subtitle The Story of the People Who Knew the People Who Did the Moors Murders and the Weekends They Spent Together and the Trouble It Caused Them, but I guess that was a little too Dickensian for the producers.
This television drama defies all the traditions of the "based on a true story" format and examines the case, not from the criminal or the procedural sides of things, but from the perspective of the killers' social circle. It doesn't play out as a mystery, a cat and mouse, a courtroom drama, or even a psychological examination of the crime. I'm not saying the story should have been done as a gore-soaked slasher, but the only thing to keep you watching is waiting for details of the murders to be revealed (Spoiler: they never are) or the couple to get caught.
Most of the two-part movie is downright dull. Because it refuses to show anything of the crimes, and Brady and Hindley are turned in by their family in rather than caught by the police, there's nothing for anyone to do until that happens. For some reason, though, scriptwriter Neil McKay decides that moment should end Part One instead of kicking off the whole drama. The entire first half is just snapshots in the life of the Hindley sisters and their respective mates; picnics on the moor, sisterly bonding, and male boasting. A police inspector pokes up every now and again to let you know a killer is afoot and makes deductions so the director can cut away to scenes proving the exact opposite. Apparently, the judicial process isn't all that interesting or difficult, because there are so few hurdles after David and Maureen go to the police that the killers are questioned, arrested, tried, and convicted in the second half, with 20 minutes left for yet more relationship drama with Maureen and David.
With some nuanced characterization, the drama might have carried it off, but every part is a one-note role. Characters are just paper dolls being moved around a set, and you can't understand or identify with them. The police are all uncaring idiots, except for the inspector who reopens one case and discovers a pattern. He's an impossibly righteous caricature who can magically tell when other people accused of the crimes are innocent. In an apparent effort not to glamorize the pair, Brady's Nazi sympathies, the couple's S&M practices, and the horrific aspects of the crime are all missing. There's nothing to paint Brady and Hindley as calculating monsters or sick human beings, and the movie is so anxious not to step on survivors' toes that even the victims get caught up in this approach.
These poor people are not portrayed by actors or fleshed out as human beings. A photograph, a pair of glasses, and a newspaper headline are the only things that mark their existence on the movie's landscape. They're such non-entities they might as well be victims in a fiction instead of a reality. Their parents, on the other hand, are all broken and long-suffering and so overly pitiful that I could hardly stand them.
The actors bring an equally flat performance to their one-note roles. Sean Harris (24 Hour Party People) is just there because he's got a naturally scary face and the required Scottish accent, and Maxine Peak looks like she's playing the murderous Myra just to distance herself from the bawdy character she plays in Shameless.
Technically, See No Evil is almost beyond reproach. What the case claims is a full-frame presentations is really widescreen, something that's always a nice surprise. The transfer is clean, and the bleak and dreary colors of the moors provide a color scheme that saturates the rest of the equally dreary movie. The only issue I had with the disc is a broken white horizontal line that appeared for a few seconds at the top of my screen in one or two scenes of Part Two.
See No Evil: The Story of the Moors Murders is a listless treatment of a shocking moment in criminal history. The movie may throw out tidbits of the full case, but it never connects the dots within the script. The constant focus on Maureen and David and the surviving relatives rather than the child victims take it to the point where it's less of a movie and more like a pity party for those still among the living. You can easily find a more engaging take in any encyclopedia entry about the case (thoughtfully provided in the "Accomplices" section by your judge), and it won't take 140 minutes of your time and patience.
Guilty of playing it too safe.
Review content copyright © 2008 Kristin Munson; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 140 Minutes
Release Year: 2006
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Wikipedia: The Moors Murders