Everyone loves a good mystery.
For years now, the true crime genre has been thriving. On every streaming service, there seems to be an endless flood of stories designed to fascinate the viewer by stepping inside the mind of a madman. Grisly murder scenes and endless research are often depicted in ways that sensationalize the serial killers and, in the process, minimizing the trauma of the victims or those who stopped them. However, with the release of Boston Strangler on Disney+, we finally have a film that wants to reverse the trend.
Set in 1960s Boston, Boston Strangler is the true story of Loretta McLaughlin (Kiera Knightley), a working mother trying to balance her family and her job as a lifestyle reporter. However, when a series of murders begin to shake the city, McLaughlin teams up with hard-nosed veteran Jean Cole (Carrie Coon) to break the case before more women are victimized.
Directed by Matt Ruskin, Boston Strangler is a twisty-turny mystery with an edge of empowerment. Unraveling with a slow burn, Ruskin’s script sheds light on a moment in American history that still is discussed with terror and reverence. Bathing the screen in shadows and tinted colours, Ruskin’s film has a feeling of unease from the opening scene. Even during scenes at home, this is a world where menace is on the prowl. However, despite its threatening atmosphere, Ruskin resists the temptation to indulge in its darkness. Unlike other true crime thrillers, Strangler chooses a more empowering approach to its storytelling. There are no scenes of bloody attacks or other graphic violence. The Strangler’s face never appears onscreen. In fact, much of the film’s best drama takes place in the newsroom or the local bar. By taking this approach, Ruskin turns his attention away from the salacious details and focuses instead on those who are fighting for justice.
But that’s what makes Strangler so special.
This is not a film that intends to glorify the actions of a madman. Instead, Strangler wants to celebrate the heroism of the press and honor the victims. Featuring solid performances by Knightley and Coon, the film’s narrative follows the brave women who fight tirelessly to end his tyranny. The tenacity of McLaughlin and Cole is inspiring and Knightley and Coon bring a fire to their performance that would make these women proud.
But what’s most interesting about the film is its willingness to reframe these days of terror in a stirring way. Despite their key involvement in the Strangler search, McLaughlin and Coon have been underserved within the history books. Fighting and clawing for truth in a male-dominated society, these women stand out as examples of courage and determination yet their contribution is rarely honored in the way that it should. By refocusing its narrative, Strangler somehow manages to retell these terrifying events in a way that is both fascinating and inspiring. While the city was gripped with fear, these women were stepping into the shadows when others wouldn’t.
And that’s a story that we need to hear more than the actions of another mass murderer.
Through his determination to uplift the actions of those who fought evil as opposed to the evil itself, Ruskin has turned the genre on its head. Sparked by the bravery of McLaughlin and Cole, Strangler ‘s killer script reshuffles the deck by restoring power back to those who have had it stolen from them. As such, Boston Strangler becomes an example of how to really give justice to the true crime story.
Boston Strangler is available on Disney+ on Friday, March 17, 2023.