________________ CM . . . . Volume XVIII Number 32 . . . . April 20, 2012


Life With Murder = Meurtre au sein de la famille.

John Kastner (Director & Writer). John Kastner (Producer). Deborah Parks (Co-producer). Silva Basmajian (Executive Producer).
Montreal, PQ: National Film Board of Canada, 2009.
93 min., DVD, $99.95.
Order Number: 153C 9911 082.

Grades 10 and up / Ages 15 and up.

Review by Frank Loreto.

**** /4


      When Brian and Leslie Jenkins came home and found their daughter Jennifer murdered, they had no idea that this would be the beginning of a nightmare that would never end. Their son Mason claimed that four men came into the house and killed his sister. At first, his parents believed his story even though the police were not so sure.

      Life with Murder is the story of the Jenkins family—Brian, Leslie and Mason. Each has been affected by Jennifer’s death, and each is committed to making the family unit survive despite unimaginable challenges. The film is divided into distinct parts which peel away a new layer to the story over the course of 10 years.

      The film begins with what looks like a normal family barbeque. Mason and his dad are giving each other the gears about cooking technique, and everything looks fine. However, the family gathering takes place in the prison yard at Warkworth where Mason now lives.

      Jennifer was shot several times in the head and in the chest. Whoever killed her meant to do so. Even though the police suspected that Mason’s story of the intruders did not ring true, his parents were not so quick to go in that direction. Leslie states that she “cannot think of any reason why he would” kill his sister. She had been talking to Mason on the phone just twenty minutes before the shooting, and he seemed fine. In his interview sessions with the police, Brian is clearly distraught and tries to understand what is happening. He states, “We haven’t done nothing. We don’t deserve this”. Mason insisted that he was innocent.

      In Part 2, the case against Mason is still in the early stages. Brian is angry with the police questioning as he feels that they “are trying to get him to say things that would convict his son”. Leslie is furious as they have not been given time to properly bury Jennifer and give her a decent mourning period. During the three year trial, she felt that “acquaintances would go the other way to avoid them”. However, she felt that they had to go out in public. Chatham, ON, is not a huge city so they felt that they were being given a life sentence as well. They never considered moving from the house. While it was the scene of their daughter’s murder, it was also the place of all their family memories, plus she says, “Who would want to buy it?” When the police offered to clean up the murder scene, Brian refused, “It’s our home, so don’t touch a friggin’ thing”. Brian was once jovial, but since the murder, he has lost 100 pounds, become diabetic and has visibly aged. He states, “I will never be able to walk my baby down the aisle.” Despite this, the parents rally around Mason as he continues to say that four men came into the house.

      By Part 3, Mason has exhausted all his appeals, and he finally admits to the murder. However, in his explanation, the shooting was an accident. Brian hangs on to this. Leslie does not want to hear the details and feels it best if they can just put all this behind them. Mason’s claim that the shooting was an accident does not hold true since Jennifer was shot five times by a single shot rifle. Each bullet had to be individually loaded into the gun. Mason’s aunt is not so forgiving, saying, “He should never get out of prison. He should pay for Jennifer’s life with his own.” Leslie, Brian and Mason make a point of connecting with each other on the anniversary of Jennifer’s death. Mason admits, “Even though I’ve been convicted of the murder of my sister, I still love her.”

      In Part 4, more surprises await Brian and Leslie. The police feel that the parents were the intended victims. Wills found on the kitchen table listed Mason as the sole heir in the event of their deaths. He laughs at the number of lies he told during the initial questioning after Jennifer’s death. Mason admits that he was afraid that he would lose his parents’ love if the truth came out.

      Part 5 gives some background to Mason’s life. Before killing Jennifer, he was fresh out of jail, it was near Christmas, and he found it all a stressful time. Killing his parents and getting their money was a solution to him: “With money, [he] could get respect and things would work out.” His plan did not work out as he thought it would. Jennifer was shot by accident, and he continued to shoot her because “she was in pain like a wounded animal; [he] saw the suffering so shot her again, wanting it to stop.” Nine months go by before Brian and Mason see each other again. Brian wants to know why he would want to kill them all. Leslie cannot understand it either. Mason admits, “I was failing at life. Friends moving on. Felt like a failure. Parents would say things that would tick me off. One way to deal with the problems would be to kill them. With money, no one to answer to, all could be good.”

      Leslie states, “It’s never going to end, so how do you deal with it? You go on blind faith and your love for your children.” Brian is afraid “of losing the family unit—regardless of the cost, we want to continue on with the family that is.” When people ask why he even bothers with Mason, he states, “The visits is all we have. Three getting together, trying to enjoy the day is as good as it gets for us.” Mason states at the end of the film, “I have been blessed with two wonderful parents like you.” To which Brian responds, “What a crock of shit.” Life with Murder is a difficult film to watch. Clearly Leslie and Brian are dealing with a situation that could destroy many marriages and the viewer could question why they even speak to Mason considering his initial plan. However, here is where the film truly shines. Unconditional love is a concept that many families never have to fully test. The Jenkins have been put through the most unimaginable heartbreak, and yet they remain true to each other and to their son. Their story continues still. Mason could be released in 2014.

      The film includes extras which feature more of Mason’s interrogation, a trauma specialist working with Leslie and Brian; a view of prison life and Mason’s aunt reacting to the guilty verdict. At the end, Leslie and Brian appear at the screening of the film. They were not aware of many of the details of the murder until they saw the film. Leslie wants the film to “teach about forgiveness, family and just moving on and there is hope.” Brian offers to “help anyone who is in any kind of comparison—to help them through it.” Both will be happy to have Mason released in 2014.

      Life with Murder would be an excellent addition to any number of courses, Parenting most certainly, plus Law, Sociology, and Psychology. The structure of the film allows for viewing and discussion of each of the parts. The fact that the viewer gets the story in segments that could be viewed and discussed in a regular class period makes this film a very good teaching tool. The content is blunt and disturbing and, at times, heart breakingly sad. However, the overall message of forgiveness and moving on is one that must be seen in action to be believed.

Highly Recommended.

Frank Loreto is a teacher librarian at St. Thomas Aquinas Secondary School in Brampton, ON.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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