The Grim Sleeper (Review)
The Grim Sleeper
Written by Teena Booth and Robert Nathan
Directed by Stanley M. Brooks
Lifetime puts out a lot of ridiculous crap as original movies, expertly giving the world scandal-fueled exploitative drama for close to 25 years. But occasionally, they turn out something decent, something that tells a story that should be told and that covers a host of class and racial issues that aren’t talked about much on television. One thing I have noticed is Lifetime has been increasing the amount of African-American based television movies, though for the most part those are largely all-black casts. The target demographic is welcome, because it’s ignored far too often by far too many. The Grim Sleeper features a mix of white and black stars, because the (true) story covered involved people both white and black.
In 2008, it became apparent that a serial killer had been preying on women in the LA area. The victims were almost exclusively black women, shot, raped, and dumped in abandoned alleys. A journalist named Christine Pelisek helped piece together that the man was out there, and through her work also discovered links dating back to the 1980s. It soon became apparent that the police knew about the slayings, and the murders dating back decades, and weren’t planning on informing the community of what was going on.
Pelisek said “screw that!” and soon it was a headline feature in the LA Weekly (you can read the original article here, and read the interview with the only known survivor here.) The community was less than impressed that the LAPD had chosen to keep this under wraps, and drama happened.
The Grim Sleeper fictionalizes lead up to the publication of the story and the eventual arrest of the alleged suspect (who has yet to go to trial!), but many events are based on fact. Several of the characters are closely based on real victims, Christine Pelisek is a real person, and the true-life aspect helps give the story the grounding to be more effective.
The LAPD is no stranger to race-related problems, and the discovery that someone was killing black women, even those that were involved in prostitution or drugs, was yet another blow to relations in the city. It’s important to not dismiss problems like this, because only by acknowledging them and working forward can we help eliminate the problems. Despite having a vague recollection of the case, I didn’t know all the racial connotations. I’m not based in LA, which probably makes some difference, as each region has their own terrible crimes. The Grim Sleeper handles the difficult tale with boldness and honestly, but without resorting to turn people into stereotypes.
The white police officer who is so committed to keeping things under wraps has a reason that makes sense in a twisted sort of way. He also realizes the weight of his error and fesses up to his mistakes. A fellow black officer doesn’t become a shield for him to hide behind, letting Detective Simms stew in his own mess. You can imagine how upset everyone was. This is not a way to treat the families of the victims, and it looks like yet another betrayal against a community that has suffered more than its fair share. The victims are humanized and not just shown as random women. They have flaws and make mistakes, but they don’t deserve to die for them. Their families are left to pick up what they can of their shattered lives.
Christine Pelisek is portrayed as a young fact-checker working her way up to reporter, and investigating the case in her spare time while constantly being worried about budget cuts. Her supervisor spends almost every scene she’s in regretting having to let more people go, the disintegration of the newspaper era laid out bare. With the media world moving to Buzzfeed-style lists and HuffingtonPost sideboob slideshows, investigative journalism of the caliber that broke this case open is becoming rarer and rarer at breakneck speed. Will the next Grim Sleeper be exposed by the media of the future, or will he escape through the cracks to kill again and again? Unless someone wants to expose unsolved murders by using 22 Mean Girls gifs, I’m afraid we’re screwed.
The Grim Sleeper punches in with a ripped from the headlines film that brings enough of the real life drama to excuse the exploitative elements. The scenes of the killer stalking women and luring them into his car before a deadly scream and fade away to a Polaroid picture deliver the necessary reminders that there is a madman predator out there, while also satisfying the audience who tuned in to see the death.
The contrast is stark between Christine, who integrates herself in the community, and Detective Simms, who stands outside it and wants to leave the people ignorant of the dangers. Christine befriends several of the victim’s families, she’s often the only person who has told them anything about their child being the victim of a serial killer, and she has her own story of a friend who died because she didn’t give her a ride home. Christine is a driven reporter who doesn’t have time for anything outside her work, no friends, no romance, no fun. Detective Simms wants to see the case resolved, but thinks it can be done by good old fashioned police work, and not community involvement. The fact the killings haven’t been solved in decades doesn’t seem to phase this view. It’s only when more people die and the truth is exposed that Simms sees what he should have done. Even still, he hides everything behind a glacial facade.
Macy Gray surprises with a good supporting role, not just that she’s a good actress, but that she’s in this film at all. She even sings a song on the soundtrack! Margette is the only survivor of the killer, and her and Christine spend a lot of time together as Christine drives her around in an effort to remember where the killer stopped his car briefly when giving her a ride. Ernie Hudson pops up about halfway through to add to the police ranks, and help redeem Simms, not by being a shield for him to use to deflect criticism, but by forcing him to own up to his part and working to help bring down the killer.
Lifetime came out with a great piece of work, and it was a welcome break from evil grandmas, evil men, evil teenagers, and the evil internet. I’m happy to jump right back in with the ocean of ridiculous drama, but I loved that I stumbled across a gem while doing so!
Rated 8/10 (news guy, victim, family, park time, family, family, memento, composite)
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