By: Henry J. Fromage (Three Beers) –
From The Thin Blue Line to the Paradise Lost trilogy, what I’d call Innocence Project docs have had a long and impactful history, but these days it seems like they’ve proliferated, and Southwest of Salem is yet another tale of the long-imprisoned, wrongfully accused.
In this case, we’re examining the innocence of the San Antonio Four, four friends who were accused of molesting the nieces of one of their number. The rub is the year is 1994 and they’re all lesbians, a fact that the prosecution uses to whip up a reactionary frenzy that even pulls in that favorite 80s sensation- Satanism.
Southwest of Salem boasts an interesting subject of justice perverted, one that has a happier ending/more conclusive wrapup than most. Director Deborah S. Esquenazi gets incredible access, to not only the victims of our justice system but even the accusers, from the spurned husband who reported them originally to even one of the little girls, years later, who of course recants the whole thing. These women are innocent, and Esquenazi finds a preponderance of evidence to prove that… and make your blood boil.
It will definitely boil.
She also does a great job filling in the interesting/horrifying context of 80s satanist hysteria and the infamous daycare trials, most of which sprung out of homosexual fear. This, coupled with interviews she has with the Innocence Project team on their case, in which they demonstrate how few of these are successful, and how little trial science is bulletproof, or even entirely scientifically valid, really sinks your heart as to just how easy it is to be incorrectly incarcerated.
Esquenazi has a throw everything at the wall and see what sticks approach. There’s such a preponderance of evidence that it doesn’t matter, but she also pursues, or allows her interviewees to pursue, some weird logical fallacies and tangents. Particularly, the fairytale tangent, which comes up twice, is just straight up bizarre. What little Texan kids know anything about Germanic fairytales, and how would that influence their testimony exactly?
Haxan’s not so popular among the elementary school set.
Stylistically, this is pretty by the numbers modern documentary boilerplate; slick, well done, but without a lot of reason for stylistic cues, or particularly the music. The music often makes you acutely aware of the craftsmanship, which isn’t often good news for a documentary.
Southwest of Salem is a documentary sure to fire you up at the massive injustice these four women have faced, and to once more expose the imperfections of our criminal justice system.
Southwest of Salem (2016) Drinking Game
Take a Drink: for media
Take a Drink: for exonerating evidence
Take a Drink: for anti-homosexual bias
Do a Shot: for anatomical drawings