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Boston Strangler (2023): Film Review

Matt Ruskin’s Boston Strangler is an engaging watch with a compelling narrative, but it never stops feeling like an imitation of better films in the same genre.

True crime has exploded as a genre in recent years, with audiences being captivated by the stories that expose the worst in humanity. Why, though? Why are we as a society so drawn to stories that just remind us how horrible some people are? Is it just morbid curiosity, or has it just become a new form of horror, a new way of scaring us by reminding us how horrific the outside world can be? Director Matt Ruskin’s Boston Strangler embraces this ethos of reminding us how terrible the world is, not just through its depiction of a killer, but through how it portrays society’s reaction to the murders and the struggle the protagonists face to stop more from being committed. It’s a bleak story that constantly reminds you of just how terrible the world can be, so in a lot of ways, it’s the perfect true crime story.

Boston Strangler follows Loretta McLaughlin (Keira Knightley, of Misbehaviour), a reporter who investigates the infamous Boston Strangler, a serial killer in the 1960s who murdered 13 women in the Boston, Massachusetts area. It quickly becomes apparent that the case is a lot more complex than it seems, with McLaughlin and fellow reporter Jean Cole (Carrie Coon, of Ghostbusters: Afterlife) facing constant pushback from all the men around them, as they slowly uncover a story full of corruption in their quest to figure out the identity of the killer. It’s an incredibly compelling narrative, and easily the best thing the film has going for it, with the overarching story of the killer and the mystery surrounding his identity doing a lot of heavy lifting. 

Easily the film’s biggest weakness is just how generic it can feel, though. The plot’s certainly interesting, but in an age where true crime is so prevalent, a story like this just feels so familiar and, as a result, forgettable. When I think about some of my favourite films like this one, certain scenes immediately spring to mind. I cast my mind back to Seven (1995) and I’m immediately greeted with the memory of the ending, or when I think of Zodiac (2007), there are about a dozen scenes that could fit that category. With Boston Strangler, however, I can’t say any stand out to me as memorable. It’s the kind of film you’ll enjoy whilst it’s on, but the second it ends, it’ll permanently fade from your memory, because there’s so little about it that helps it stand out from the crowd.

Keira Knightley at nighttime in the film Boston Strangler
Boston Strangler (Hulu)

With that being said though, the film has its strengths. In terms of the acting, the cast all deliver here, with Knightley, who I think is severely underrated as an actress in general, giving a solid performance in the lead role, constantly energising the film and helping prevent it from ever feeling like a slog. Carrie Coon is equally good and her chemistry with Knightley is great, but I feel like the film severely underuses her throughout. The visuals are very reminiscent of Zodiac, with all of the actors being constantly drenched in shadows and even the colour palette reminding me of David Fincher’s film. 

Despite having a great story as its foundation and plenty of strong actors at its disposal, Boston Strangler can’t help but feel like a pale imitation of better films, with nothing to separate it from its peers. It’s a hard one to recommend, because almost everything it does well, Zodiac does better. For a movie that’s trying to tackle some difficult issues and tell a real-life story of a terrifying serial killer, it all feels too timid. It’s missing that sense of ruthlessness, that sense of fear it needs to instil in me. In fact, I might argue that it’s missing any air of suspense at all. It’s all a bit too generic and safe, unfortunately.

In the hands of a different, more confident director, Boston Strangler could have been fantastic. As it is, it just feels like Zodiac-lite, with very little to make it memorable despite a compelling mystery at its core. It’s an engaging watch, but there are much better films in the same genre that I would advise anyone to check out ahead of it.

Boston Strangler is now available to watch on Hulu.

Boston Strangler: Trailer (Hulu)
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