The Miranda Murders: Lost Tapes of Leonard Lake is ambitious. It’s a found footage film that manages not to be entirely kitschy while profiling the “lost” moments of notorious serial murderers (rapists, sadists, kidnappers) Leonard Lake and Charles Ng.
For the unaware: Lake and Ng terrorized Northern California from 1983ish to 1985 with a sick game of torture, imprisonment, rape and killing. They would often abduct women, kill their partners and children, and subject their captives to weeks of terrifying and degrading forms of physical and mental abuse. It’s one of those real life horror stories that sprouted out of the tail end of America’s sordid affair with cult leaders, killings and the like in the 70’s.
“…the found footage style here is handled not as a gimmick but a serious formal choice that provides frightening element of authenticity.”
For some reason, director Matthew Rosvally and co decided to make it a movie. Regardless of why they did, this much is true: The Miranda Murders is an incredibly hard watch. One reason for this is that the found footage is handled not as a gimmick but a serious formal choice that provides frightening element of authenticity. The archival effect and faithfulness of production bring about the kind of goosebumps I’m sure we all got when unmarked VHS tapes sat around and The Grudge was still a new movie. Pair this with the alleged verity of the performances and you’ve got a movie that feels like a snuff film. This is intentional. In an interview with HorrorNews.net, Rosvally notes that nearly all the scenes are reconstructed pantomimes of recovered footage from Lake and Ng’s murder estate:
“This movie is an actual portrayal of real life footage, much of which is not available to the public. The performances and storytelling are designed to be as accurate to the actual occurrences as possible. [We] worked hard to avoid sensationalizing the piece in order to share what it was actually like to be taken prisoner by these two individuals with no hope of escape or survival. Yet, much like the actual footage, there is no gore or evisceration on camera. The Miranda Murders is a tough sit through and is not for everyone, especially those who have experienced trauma or abuse in their lives.“
That last bit is hard to accept however. The score of The Miranda Murders almost revels in the terrorization of its subjects. And, while Rosvally and G.R. Claveria faithfully act out the strange, abusive dynamic between Lake and Ng themselves, there’s still a Eli Rothian wink about it all. We know this is meant for our cheap entertainment, even if the events were real or inspired by real events and murderers. Given this, the people behind this film know it’s meant to disturb and terrify, and they want it to do so to the fullest extent. Within that context, any hand-waving about its content feels disingenuous at best.
“It’s one of those real life horror stories that sprouted out of the tail end of America’s sordid affair with cult leaders, killings and the like in the 70’s.”
That said, if the film is as faithful as they say, it can also be a striking reality check for those who sensationalize and revel in true crime stories. These women (and their associates) met real, grisly ends at the hands of Lake and Ng. And their deaths were real moments, not chilling twists in a novel. The found footage element of the film helps reinforce some of this in deft and surprising ways; the security footage acting as surveillance of sparing moments alone with victims. And even the private conversations Lake and Ng have on-camera give us some insight into the calculated, deliberate depravity.
Perhaps–ironically then–The Miranda Murders is a paradox unto itself, satiating true crime fans while immediately digging into deeper issues that counteract whatever pleasure could be derived from watching. This potential balance hopefully leaves a viewer with new eyes, and appreciation, for the ways in which we casually consume such horrors, from Law and Order: SVU to the latest true crime podcast.
The Miranda Murders: Lost Tapes of Leonard Lake (2017) Directed by Matthew Rosvally. Written by G.R. Claveria and Matthew Rosvally. Starring G.R. Claveria, and Matthew Rosvally.
3/5 Seriously Earned Cringes