Who doesn’t love a good true crime story? Writer/director Matt Ruskin certainly adheres to the formula in Boston Strangler, based on the true proceedings. More than anything else, this thrilling drama exposes the truth behind the phantom specter that haunted the streets of Massachusetts as the body count of murdered women continued to rise. Think: Netflix’s Mindhunter lite, and that is pretty much exactly what Boston Strangler delivers on a silver platter.
Inspired by a true story, Ruskin’s feature plays on the well-worn formula of having a murderer work in the background as a team of others work to bring him down. We first meet Loretta (Kiera Knightley), happily married with a loving husband, yet stuck in “lifestyle” column hell. She gets assigned a toaster product review, as other women who work for the Record American are saddled with only fashion and gossip columns. Loretta does notice that one other woman, fellow reporter Jean Cole (Carrie Coon), has somehow been able to write about things not quite as rudimentary. Nevertheless, Loretta remains committed to reaching hard-hitting truths.
Loretta notices a pattern forming—there have been three women strangled within the last two weeks! She wants to profile the victims, but her boss shuts her down unless she simply does it on her own time. Using her own techniques, Loretta manages to compile enough information to craft a story that runs in the Record American. The problem is that the higher ups will do literally anything to invalidate Loretta’s claims, trying to pin her credibility merely on the fact that she is a woman. The rampant sexism of the 1960s proves to be so harmful that it results in several more deaths occurring before people even take notice. Suddenly, this threat is very real. Two women may solve the case of the Boston Strangler before the actual authorities…
One thing Matt Ruskin accomplishes with this feature is making sure that it never feels exploitative. Each murder is only teased. Ruskin refuses to revel in the violence and decadence that colors so many other true crime adaptations. Coon and especially Knightly do their thing to a relatively impressive, if slightly bland, period thriller. Of course, that Boston Strangler keeps mostly factual is perhaps the scariest aspect. An ending that drives home the larger themes of the film practically chilled me to the bone. The appalling sexism and overall incompetence is inexcusable indeed; though Boston Strangler may not exactly represent peak crime thriller, it does a perfectly serviceable job of portraying the ghastly reality of the 1960s.
Escape the Boston Strangler when the film releases exclusively to Hulu on Friday, March 17th.