True Crime in Indianapolis: An American Crime
Based on the true story of Sylvia Likens
An American Crime (2007)
Based upon one of the most disturbing cases of child abuse in American history, "An American Crime" depicts the most despicable crimes committed against a sixteen year old girl in 1960's Indianapolis, Indiana, which resulted in homicide.
In 1965, Betty and Lester Likens, a couple that travels with the carnival, decided to leave their two teenage daughters, Sylvia Likens (Ellen Page) and her fifteen year old sister Jennie Likens (Hayley McFarland) with a neighborhood woman, Gertrude Baniszewski (Catherine Kenner), that they barely knew.
Despite the fact that Gertrude is a single mother with seemingly normal children in public, once we "follow" the Likens girls into the Baniszewski household we quickly learn that depth of perversity and dysfunction that takes place behind closed doors.
Note: This film is very graphic and is only intended for mature audiences. The abuse scenes are extremely difficult to watch. Director Tommy O'Haver succeeds in making the viewer feel like a victim.
The viewer desperately wants to see the Likens girls escape the horrifying realism of the Baniszewski household. By using a dream sequence, viewers are lead to believe that Sylvia finally escapes through an act of unexpected kindness. We root for her, we watch her parents embrace her, we let out a sigh of relief--only to discover that those were Sylvia's last thoughts before her death. She never made it out.
Why would the director do this? Because that's what the viewer wants: we want to believe that the depraved characters of this film will try to help Sylvia, despite the fact that they're demented. We keep waiting for an act of compassion--but it never comes. The real American Crime in this film is that Sylvia Likens could have escaped, much like the dream-sequence 'escape scene' the Director depicts. Instead we're presented with a horrific true crime drama that ends in tragedy.