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The Films Of The LA Film Fest: 'Life With Murder'

Holly Butcher |
June 20, 2010 | 4:02 p.m. PDT

Senior Music Editor
Verdict: Rent it! (Unless you like to shed a tear in public)
On Jan. 6, 1998, Brian and Leslie Jenkins of Chatham, ON lost both their children. Eighteen-year-old Jennifer was found dead in their basement with repeated rifle shots to her heart and head, while her 20-year-old brother, Mason, was put in custody as a suspect for her slaying. He was then tried and convicted of first degree murder.
Filmmaker John Kastner retells the Jenkins' story over the 10-year span from the murder until today. He uses police interrogation tapes and original footage from Mason's prison cell and family visits, which give the impression that the viewer is a part of the twisted journey. (Spoiler -- the real murderer confesses toward the end of the film.)
It is a brutally honest portrayal of a family bonded by love but struggling for acceptance. To some outsiders' disbelief, the Jenkins parents continue to stand by their son, even as gruesome details of Jennifer's death are revealed. Their tremendous inner strength radiates throughout the film as they laugh and cook dinners with their son from a house on the prison premises. 
But it is hard to watch them cope with the grief of a lost daughter and the ostracism of having raised an alleged killer. Kastner shows their positive attitude, but also exposes the toll the crime has had on their health and happiness (Brian now suffers from Diabetes).  
The film pulls at the viewer's heartstrings from start to finish. It's painful to hear police question Brian two hours after he found his dead daughter in a pile of blood inside their house; while he sobs, he also knows he must help the investigation immediately before properly grieving.  
Kastner succeeds in painting a picture of the Jenkins' life after murder. They remain in Chatham after Jennifer's death, which - as Kastner shows - takes enormous courage. Brian said that many of their aquaintances avoided them after the death and conviction. But now the world can listen to their story of recovering from a local murder first-hand.
Chatham, which is approximately 50 miles from Detroit, has a population of 45,783. 
"They call Detroit the murder city, where they have about a murder a day. Here in Chatham, we have about a murder per year," Leslie said as Kastner shows the main streets of the town. "Unfortunately 1998 was our year." None of the Jenkins were ready for the horror inflicted on the family as they previously lived a life free from violence.
Life With Murder is no easy watch, but it is good and filled with humanity. You see real people react to the unthinkable: a murder and convicted killer in the same immediate family. The underlying question is how could this happen if both children were raised with the same values and treated the same? 
Even if Life With Murder cannot answer the rhetorical question, it sheds light into what the family of a convicted felon deals with in day-to-day life. And that has not really been done before. 
Rating: 4/5 stars



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