‘Bayou Blue’ Takes an Unflinching Look at Death in the Dark

These men are painted as those that easily disappear, and when they do disappear, it takes nearly ten years to bring their killer to justice.

This is a film that lets the people speak for themselves. There are no explanatory cards or omnipotent narration. There are only those who lived it, and the land that bore witness to these crimes.

During a ten year span between the mid-’90s and 2006, Ronald Dominique raped and murdered over 20 men in Houma and New Orleans in Louisiana, dumping their bodies in ditches and dumpsters across the area. Directors Alix Lambert and David McMahon tell the story of these murders and Dominique’s subsequent arrest through interview-style testimony from a variety of sources. They look to family members of the victims, the law enforcements agents that worked the case and caught Dominique, and a journalist who covered the story for a local paper only to make some shocking realization about the world we live in on a much larger scale.

There is also an interview held with Ricky, who had been picked up by Dominique but managed to leave before he could be harmed. He was the only man known to be so fortunate as to escape the fate 23 other men like him were forced to suffer. His testimony in particular is reflective and haunting, his eyes filled with spoken “what-ifs” as they avoid the camera.

Spread between these interviews is audio of Dominique himself being questioned by the police, set against footage of the roads and crime scenes of which he speaks. These long, dark stretches of footage across uneven country at night, lit only by a blinding flashlight or headlights, make for eerily effective storytelling. The filmmakers make a point of doing a lot with little, drawing viewers in and hooking them without sitting them down and giving them a a flat-out explanation for everything they see.

Unfortunately for Lambert and McMahon, there are drawbacks to telling a story in this way. For those unfamiliar with New Orleans and its many facets, some accounts of the murders and their locations come across as a bit confusing. There are no maps or photographs used to elaborate on the geography, save for a stylized map used for the opening and closing credits. While this map could have been utilized as an explanatory device, it is instead merely cosmetic and doesn’t provide enough information.

Furthermore, the film barely touches upon the social relevance of media coverage in relation to the murders. McMahon originally became interested in the story in comparison to that of another serial killer in the area who received more notoriety in the papers for the murder of half a dozen white women. This could be a story of race and gender, sexuality and public bias. However, barely any of this is mentioned in Bayou Blue, and the filmmakers insist on remaining a nearly invisible presence within the documentary.

It is noted that Dominique’s crimes only made local coverage, and when local reporter Robert Morris contacted The New York Times about running the story, the paper dismissed it as being too regional for national news. Such a response generates an interesting debate on what constitutes “news” in and of itself, as well as how people are deemed “worthy” of coverage. The life of every man, woman, and child is important, and yet the murders of these young, predominately black, men of unhealthy, rural areas was deemed “too regional”.

The social and economical dialogue of the story is overshadowed greatly by the tale of these lost men. Various aspects of the case may have drawn the filmmakers in, but this is the narrative they choose to convey. In many respects it’s a bold undertaking, presenting the facts through bare interviews rife with the rawness of human emotion, bias, and mourning for the loved ones that will never come home. Such men are painted as those that easily disappear, and when they do disappear, it takes nearly ten years to bring their killer to justice.

One cannot help but wonder how this happened. Are the police to blame for inadequacy, or was it simply Dominique’s cleverness that kept the law off his trail for so long? Could more have been done? Or perhaps the vastness of the area and its geography provided its own challenges, made more confusing by bringing together law enforcement agents from different towns across the area. Bayou Blue hints at many different facets without delving too deeply into any one part of the story.

As a DVD, they do not come much simpler than Bayou Blue. There are no special features of any kind. There isn’t even a menu. One need only put the disc in and press “play” to view the film and from it draw all that they can from these horrific crimes.

While Bayou Blue asks many questions, the intent of Lambert and McMahon is obvious: they are here to tell the story and audience must settle their own opinions. This is documentary storytelling in its truest form, and while it at times stumbles, there is a haunting darkness to film that is not easily forgotten.

RATING 8 / 10