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January 28, 2015

Film + EntertainmentReview | by Francesco Cerniglia

Lonnie Franklin at Court_Grim_Sleeper_Photograph by Barney Broomfield (low res)

The staunch British upper-lip style of Nick Broomfield’s Tales of the Grim Sleeper couldn’t be defined other than a return to form. Known for his work on Kurt & Courtney (1998) and Biggie & Tupac (2002), the British documentary filmmaker’s career spans 44-years, his debut coming in 1971 with the seminary short film, Who Cares. He is often found exposing himself, near the end, holding a boom microphone and a Nagra tape recorder — a trait synonymous to his method.

The film kicks things off with an introduction to a case about a serial killer, known in the media’s eye as ‘the Grim Sleeper’. Lonnie Franklin Jr., a subject of the continuing anxieties with law-enforcement in the United States, and Nick Bromfield’s preoccupation with relentless probing true-crime serial, informs us of a social and economic divide that continues to spread its ugly hand, wide and thin.

The plot revolves around Lonnie Franklin Jr’s fascination with women and the social ills that attract these women to him. An obsession that begins with taking pictures of the women he dates, first on Polaroid and then video and cell phone, eventually graduating to hints of a conspiracy and a $250,000 reward for the capture of a murderer thought to have killed over 100 victims over a 25 year stretch.

Upon the arrest of Lonnie Franklin Jr., we learn that this was not the product of painstaking detective work but completely accidental, the result of a computer DNA matches linking him to a possible 20 victims. Obvious challenges arise as Lonnie’s former relationships lead Nick Broomfield from one friend to the next, all with audacious things to say about the accused, as we piece together enough evidence to paint the portrait of a serial killer.

We are then introduced to witnesses, who all inform us of a camper and a garage where Lonnie is to have allegedly raped and murdered these women, to be illustrated for us in increasingly provocative detail. Fernando, another friend of Lonnie’s, believes that the motivation behind the murders of these victims all ties in to a failed first marriage — and a hatred and anger that had been built up.

Tales of the Grim Sleeper is exactly as it sounds, a documentary intercut with interviews on thought-provoking subject matters, such as drug use and social inequality. However, information on the murders of women, all from the south central area, never even makes it to the local news, leaving us with nothing but compassion for the fact and no action from the sheriff’s department.

Although the documentary is dry, Tales of the Grim Sleeper manages to interweave the moments of high-stake drama with a sense of visceral movement. Simplifying matters, a sketch is revealed in 2009, dating the capture of the assailant to 20 years, and eventually leading to the arrest of Lonnie Franklin Jr. in July 2010.

Nick Broomfield (L) and Pam Brooks (R)_Grim_Sleeper_Photograph by Barney Broomfield (low res)

Antonio Villaraigosa, the elected Mayor, takes the podium and addresses the press with confidence and decree. Margaret Prescod of the Black Coalition Fighting Back Serial Murders, then takes the mic, believing the day to be a full service “PR Job” and adds to the media circus, by patting herself on the back as well.

Nick manages to reach out to the Mayor’s Office as well as the Sheriff’s Department, requesting an interview concerning the ‘Grim Sleeper’ case. In response, both parties remain neutral and request that Nick probe no further into the Lonnie Franklin Case. Broomfield manages to then pull a rabbit out of the hat: it is Lonnie’s son’s DNA that addresses us at the end. We learn that his family no longer want to speak with him, for the very offence of having turned his father in.

After the hearing in 2010, we discover the survivors of the Lonnie Franklin Jr. case are either unable or too afraid to speak with the documentary crew, for fear of implicating themselves. Lonnie Franklin Jr. awaits trial.

Tales Of The Grim Sleeper is released in UK cinemas on January 30th.

Jonatham Lim