Review: The Promise

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The Promise screens at UNCSA Gold on Saturday at 7 p.m., and co-director Karin Steinberger will be in attendance. A screening Friday is already sold out.

Propelled by an eerie rendition of “I Put A Spell On You,” the opening sequence of The Promise bumps down country Virginia roads, coming to a stop at the Haysom home. The bottom falls out as the music disappears, and gruesome images of murdered couple Nancy and Derek Haysom lying on their floor provide a jarring kickstart to the film.

The 1985 double murder of a prominent couple shocked not just nearby residents, but became a media sensation as gawkers consumed footage of the trials of the couple’s daughter Elizabeth and her lover Jens Soering, who were caught after fleeing the country.

The Promise is another engrossing story of how wrong the so-called justice system can go, the kind of documentary that would appeal to anyone who consumed Serial or “Making a Murderer,” or the type of person who reads true-crime thrillers. It’s filled with all sorts of sordid details and captivating characters, and the more it progresses the more it appears that Elizabeth did indeed put a spell on the young Soering, who claims he tried to take a noble fall for his love despite no involvement in the crime.

All kinds of questions linger in Soering’s case. Where is the physical evidence tying him to the deed? Did the prosecution bury exculpatory evidence? Did Elizabeth Haysom cover up someone else’s involvement, who’s still at large?

The Promise has it all, from heartbreak and betrayal to LSD and references ranging from Macbeth to The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

Was Soering an easy scapegoat as a German national, who fell for the first woman he slept with (a “beautiful, charming liar,” in the words of one reporter who covered the trial)? Regardless, chances are you’ll agree with a group of officials and high-powered attorneys who say he should go free by the time the two-hour film ends.

Eric Ginsburg

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