Aileen: Life and Death of a Serial Killer (2003)


“I’m so fuckin’ mad I can’t see straight. And they’re just daring me to kill again.”

I could watch documentaries for days on end, and Netflix seems to have taken to the real crime drama with its selections, likely following the success of Making a Murderer. I was certainly curious about the inclusion of Aileen: Life and Death of a Serial Killer into the 1001 Movies list. It’s strange, and Jay Schneider is clearly one for strangeness. Maybe it’s included for inclusion’s sake: hitting a real crime documentary seems fitting for a list of important movies, but I feel like bases are covered with the more conventional and important Thin Blue Line. This movie is an enigma, but then again, so is its titular serial killer.

Aileen is actually a followup to filmmaker Nick Broomfield’s 1992 film Aileen Wuornos: The Selling of a Serial Killer in which it is implied that notorious “serial killer” Aileen Wuornos is given an unfair trial. Aileen was a sex worker who murdered johns, claiming in the trial that she did so in self defense. She admits in this film, however, that there was no self defense and that she was merely trying to dodge the law. This very confession may prove unreliable, however, as the documentary demonstrates constant shifts in Aileen’s story due to her declining mental state leading up to her execution.

I think the primary appeal of the movie is Aileen herself. She confides in Broomfield, who seems genuinely concerned for her well being. He interviews other figures in Aileen’s life, but the film’s major set piece is Aileen’s press conference before her execution. She berates the system at large and even criticizes Broomfield, implying he only used her for his film, an accusation which clearly strikes Broomfield in a personal way. It’s a passionate spectacle that seems to justify the duller, more repetitive parts of the film.

I also admire how effortlessly Aileen seems to be humanized. She speaks bluntly and carries a certain charm about her, even if she comes across as rude and very potentially guilty of being a remorseless serial killer. Broomfield is the perfect storyteller as well, bringing dry British humor to a very low-brow, American situation with which he seems completely entranced.

I wouldn’t say that Aileen is among the great documentaries or even among the great true crime documentaries, but there’s clear quality in the film’s direction, and it was a worthwhile viewing nonetheless.

Films Left to Watch: 854

About Travis

I'm a software engineer reviewing a bunch of movies.
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