Starring Peyton List and Lydia Hurst, Aileen Wuornos: American Boogeywoman takes a look at a fairly unknown time in the life of the infamous serial killer. In the late ‘70s Wuornos moved to Florida and married a successful businessman who happened to be several decades her senior. She claims she was trying to change her life and start fresh, but old grifting habits die hard and her redemption plan ends in murder, several of them.
The American Boogeyman series is unique in that it tends to focus on the more fantastical parts of their subjects. Similarly, American Boogeyman: Ted Bundy fictionalized rumored aspects of his life within the movie. There are scenes where he lounges with female mannequin parts and perverse images from exploitation magazines. These movies exist in the land of what if? and it’s not entirely a bad thing.
It would take decades to fully understand and explain our fascination with serial killers, and it’s through rounds of telephone and fable that these people become larger than life villains. The Summer of Sam kept citizens inside mostly unairconditioned homes for fear of being the victim for the evening. Crimes were attributed to him that he didn’t commit, but no one cared about the details, as long as it fed the mystery and spectacle.
There’s a line in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, “When the legend becomes fact. Print the legend.” The truth is that Aileen Wuornos was a troubled woman with more than her fair share of criminal behavior before the age of 30. She sought refuge in Delano, FL and there she met a man – local yacht club Commodore, Lewis Fell (Tobin Bell) – and married him after only two weeks. In the movie it shows their meeting being instigated by Lewis’ daughter, Jennifer (Lydia Hurst) after randomly meeting Aileen on the beach.
Writer and director Daniel Farraday knew there was very little known about that time in her life, and wanted to create a narrative of what could have happened, but told from Aileen’s perspective. The question is whether it’s a perspective worth knowing.
Peyton List’s performance is uneven and erratic, which would make sense given the Aileen that we do know. She endured years of sexual, physical, verbal, and emotional abuse and was allegedly forced into incestuous situations with her brother Keith (Joseph Schwartz). Aileen had to be a walking red flag and whatever charm she possessed is missing from this movie.
She’s instantly paranoid and untrusting, but then takes the very first opportunity to stab her benefactors in the back. She claims to want a fresh start and to do things right and she instantly falls into old habits. The pacing of the movie is already accelerated with the timeline jumping quickly from hour to hour. There are some obvious holes that could have used more fleshing out.
I think the problem with a feature like this lies in the idea of trying to bring humanity and perspective to someone who has been deemed a monster. The only reason the narrative is significant is because it happened to Aileen Wuornos. How many other episodes of Dateline begin with a young woman marrying an older man and taking him for all he and his family are worth? While it’s mildly interesting that she pulled this off in addition to the string of murders, the only purpose it seems to serve is showing up that Aileen was even worse than we thought.
Aileen Wuornos: American Boogeywoman is not without its moments. Hurst’s portrayal of the sidelined daughter is wonderfully grounded in a movie full of actors playing to the back of the house. Bell’s Fell is also well done though he doesn’t have a lot to do. There are some interesting director’s choices that hearken back to the days of Unsolved Mysteries re-enactments. Between the fashions, the erratic “you think you’re better than me!?” outbursts and the look into the late ‘70s Florida upper crust, there is some kitschy fun to enjoy.
The film also seems to understand its place. Most of the movie is Aileen telling her story to a reporter the day before she’s to be executed. There’s a scene in a hotel room where we see Aileen and her brother Keith. When we flash back to the prison, the reporter tells her that there are conflicting reports to which Aileen replies, “that’s the way I remember it!”. She’s taken the victim concept to a whole other level. She hasn’t written herself as the hero, she’s written herself as the cat that needs saving, but then refuses because “I don’t need anyone else, I can take care of myself!”. Even within the artifice of the movie, there’s something compelling about this certain kind of delusion that doesn’t make American Boogeywoman a waste of a watch.
The film shouldn’t be viewed as a documentary on the life of Aileen Wuornos, but instead a celebration of the legend that Wuornos has become due to our shared fascination. From that viewpoint it can be an engaging watch that will leave you with tried and true conversation starters.
Aileen Wuornos: American Boogeywoman is currently available on DVD and VOD. Check out more offerings from Dark Star Pictures.
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