An American Crime is a movie with real dramatizations of the 1965, torture and murder of Sylvia Likens (Ellen Page, Juno), which took place in Indianapolis, Indiana. Gertrude Baniszewski (Catherine Keener), was the typical mother of six children, ages ranging from infant to seventeen. With the overwhelming responsibilities of caring for eight children and little money for food and bills caused her to become physically and mentally deranged.
Liken’s mother, Betty (Romy Rosemont), and father, Lester (Nick Searcy), worked with a traveling carnival/circus. Gertrude was more than willing to take care of Sylvia and her sister, Jenny (Hayley McFarland, for a weekly fee of twenty dollars. Although, they normally took the children with them when they were working, they decided to take Gertrude up on her generous offer. Betty was hoping that this would give her and Lester time to rethink their previous separation.
Sylvia and Jenny did not mind living with Gertrude for the better part of the time, but when the promised checks did not arrive on time Gertrude would become very upset and beat the girls with a belt. Gertrude’s temper escalated to the point of no return. She became jealous of Sylvia because she was so pretty and drawing the attention of young men that she thought would be more suitable for her daughter. Jenny had some type of physical disability making her less of a threat.
Gertrude was not mentally stable from the very beginning of their stay and now she had spiraled out of control. She locked Sylvia down in the cold basement, starved, beat, and tortured her for many days. She even went so far as to invite the children from the neighborhood to join in on the fun. Jenny did not want to be involved in the mistreatment of Sylvia, but Gertrude would have none of that.
The torture continues until the children reveal to Gertrude that Sylvia is deceased. Ricky Hobbs (Evan Peters, American Horror Story), calls the police and tells them briefly of Sylvia’s condition. In the end, Jenny bravely gets on the stand during Gertrude’s murder trial to tell the world about Sylvia’s grueling days in the cold basement. Ultimately, it would be Jenny’s testimony that put an end to Gertrude’s bizarre behavior and freedom.
This dark film takes us back to the 60’s, and shows us what Sylvia had to endure at the hands of Gertrude, her children, and the neighborhood children and how her life was cut short because of the harmless decision of her parents. If you want to avoid the realistic and horrendous truths of child abuse avoid this movie at all costs. Even though I had some difficulty watching some of the reenactments of the abuse I still enjoyed the movie immensely. 8.5