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‘Boston Strangler’ brings feminist approach to thriller genre

‘Boston Strangler’ brings feminist approach to thriller genre

‘Boston Strangler’ brings feminist approach to thriller genre
March 31
13:00 2023

Hulu’s recent release, “Boston Strangler,” adds a breath of fresh air to the true crime genre. While the genre has become increasingly popular, true crime dramas have gone quite stale. 

Unlike most serial killer films, “The Boston Strangler” doesn’t focus on the killer himself. Instead, it lends itself to a more feminist focus — offering viewers a look into the challenges women of this period faced in almost every area of life.

The movie follows reporter Loretta McLaughlin, played by Keira Knightley, as she connects a series of murders and warns the women of Boston about a killer on the loose. She and Jean Cole, played by Carrie Coon, come together to track down the Boston Strangler while challenging sexist 1960s norms. 

The most prominent challenge in the film is the focus on Loretta fighting her way into investigative journalism. Once she does manage to break her way into investigative news, she’s accused of flirting her way into leads rather than working for them. Even outside of work, Loretta is ridiculed for chasing her career rather than raising her children.

“Boston Strangler” also offers an exciting insight into the world of journalism itself. Journalists often walk a line between what is too much and what’s too little in their research and writing.

One of the film’s most memorable quotes comes from Jean’s character, when she tells Loretta, “We don’t make the news, we cover it.” However, as a journalist, it’s sometimes hard to find where this line can be.

There’s an additional lingering, commentary about sexism that stays almost hidden throughout the film. Initially, the victims are referred to as “a bunch of nobodies,” and aren’t taken seriously. Throughout the film, there are shots of women looking over their shoulders and hesitating in fear. 

Matt Ruskin does a great job at painting a picture of the paranoia and fear that dominated Boston women during this time. It beautifully highlights the difference between the flippancy in male privilege and the feminist fear that’s present even in today’s society.

Toward the end of the film, Loretta is faced with the heartbreaking realization that her attempts to inform the women of Boston may have backfired big time. She realizes that while she was right in connecting the string of recent murders, she may have incidentally provided cover for other murders as well. Her detailed accounts of the Boston Strangler provided the perfect opportunity for men to disguise their dirty work as that of the Strangler’s. 

Undoubtedly, the film’s crown jewel is its big-name cast. Despite not having much work in thriller films, Knightley takes up the mantle effortlessly. Her emotional range in the role of Loretta is palpable to viewers. It’s easy to follow along the highs and lows that the character faces, enfolding us viewers into the story easily. 

Knightley takes the cake as the film’s lead actress and along with Chris Cooper, who plays Loretta’s no-nonsense boss, Jack MacLaine, the two lend themselves to the plot beautifully. Jean’s camaraderie with Loretta plays well against Jack’s seemingly sexist ideals. 

For all the high notes this film hits, it’s also necessary to talk about the elephant in the room: the cinematography. 

Viewers only see the Boston Strangler interacting with his victims during off-the-screen dialogue, or the moments just before disaster strikes. While it helps build an ominous atmosphere, it does become overused. 

The film’s color palette also leaves much to be desired. Most of the scenes seem to be washed out, even greyed at some points, leaving the movie feeling a bit drab. 

Even though the film may not be interesting to most true crime fans due to its lack of traditional true crime elements, it’s very much worth the watch. The new, refreshing take on the genre is much needed. It grounds viewers and reminds them of the people behind-the-scenes, working to bring these killers down. 

Xander’s rating: 4/5

Featured Illustration by Allie Garza 

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Xander Weems

Xander Weems

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