True crime dramas and thrillers are constant now, but often, they live in a detective noir space, chronicling the police trying to catch a criminal or a victim who escaped or a relative searching for truth. Few focus on the journalists covering, with only Zodiac coming to mind. From 20th Century Fox, the Hulu Original film The Boston Strangler lives in the shadow of Zodiac, trying to come out from under it but lacking the necessary bite to do so. But that doesn’t mean that the film doesn’t have a place in the larger conversation of the genre. In fact, the conversation that The Boston Strangler opens is more important than the space it takes as a true crime film.
Written and directed by Matt Ruskin, Boston Strangler is a true-crime thriller that shifts the narrative to a journalist, yes, but more importantly, the women who lived in fear of the killer and copycats along the way. Told from the perspective of the trailblazing reporters who broke the story of the notorious Boston Strangler murders of the 1960s, particularly Loretta McLaughlin (Keira Knightley), the film aims to engage in a larger conversation about who gets to solve crimes, who gets to shape the narrative around them, and ultimately, how the truth bends depending on who is reporting it.
Boston Strangler isn’t a fast-moving crime thriller. Instead, it’s slow and winding as Loretta McLaughlin, a reporter for the Record-American newspaper, becomes the first journalist to connect the Boston Strangler murders across multiple victims and possible perpetrators. As the mysterious killer claims more and more victims, Loretta attempts to continue her investigation alongside colleague and confidante Jean Cole (Carrie Coon) even as they’re iced out of reporting and the situation itself thanks to the rampant sexism of the era. Nevertheless, McLaughlin and Cole bravely pursue the story at great personal risk. But the danger isn’t just from the killers. It’s also from a system that will sacrifice them or deny them the truth even when it’s right in front of their eyes.
The pace of Boston Strangler is slow and, at times, meandering. It tries its best to weave between expectations for different elements of those trying to solve the crime, establishing the different roles that each person plays and just how ostracized Loretta is. For her part, Kiera Knightley is fantastic as Loretta becomes increasingly engrossed in the mystery. She does her best to inject emotion in sometimes wooden dialogue and ultimately succeeds most of the time. That said, “thriller” is pushing the envelope on what to call the film as it lacks the tension and bite of others in the genre.
Ultimately though, Boston Strangler is a good addition to the true crime genre of films if only because it pushes the audience to question who the narration is coming from. Who is the storyteller? What are their motives? And overall, are they covering up their ineptitude?
All of these are questions that we should ask when we see stories of tragedy retold, especially when the victims are marginalized in some form. Boston Strangler confronts this, and while it doesn’t manage to gracefully interrogate it, the film does at least call on the audience to do so on their own. And with true crime a booming industry in the documentary and “based on a true story” space, it’s a necessary call to action, even if it’s slightly muddied.
Boston Strangler is streaming now exclusively on Hulu.
…Boston Strangler is a good addition to the true crime genre of films if only because it pushes the audience to question who the narration is coming from.
Kate Sánchez is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of But Why Tho? A Geek Community. There, she coordinates film, television, anime, and manga coverage. Kate is also a freelance journalist writing features on video games, anime, and film. Her focus as a critic is championing animation and international films and television series for inclusion in awards cycles.