In 2021’s Aileen Wuornos: American Boogeywoman, Peyton List stars at Aileen, who prefers to be called Lee. Lee has fled an unpleasant and abusive home in Michigan and she has made her way down to Florida. With no money and no formal education, she’s been forced to make a living as a truck stop prostitute. However, on July 4th, 1976, she happens to stumble across a party on the beach. She befriends Jennifer (Lydia Hearst), who invites Lee to stay at her beach house. Though Lee quickly overstays her welcome, she does meet Jennifer’s widowed father, Lewis Fell (Tobin Bell). Lewis is enchanted by Lee’s crude but enthusiastic personality. Lee is enchanted by Lewis’s money. Soon, they’re married. But when Lewis’s daughter and friends start to dig into Lee’s mysterious past, Lee resorts to murder to protect her secrets.
The idea of making a movie about future serial killer Aileen Wournos hanging out around the Florida beach and marrying the kindly president of a yacht club may sound like an unlikely one but when has that ever stopped anyone? Oddly enough, American Boogeywoman is loosely based on the truth. Before she became the fraggle-toothed serial killer who was immortalized in two Nick Broomfield documentaries and by Charlize Theron in Monster, Aileen Wournos was briefly married to a yacht club president named Lewis Fell. The marriage was even announced in the society pages. Of course, the marriage didn’t last long. Aileen was accused of striking Lewis with his own cane and the two of them ended up getting a divorce. That said, it would appear that the majority of American Boogeywoman was fictionalized. Aileen was never accused of murdering anyone before she started the killing spree that eventually landed her on Florida’s crowded death row. In the film, Aileen also claims to have murdered her own brother after he suddenly turned up in a cheap Florida motel and demanded money. In real life, Aileen’s brother died in Michigan, long after Aileen had cut off contact with her family.
The film opens with Aileen already on death row, talking to a documentarian about her marriage. Occasionally, throughout the film, the documentarian will interrupt Aileen’s story and he’ll point out that what she’s saying doesn’t really make sense. (For instance, he points out that there’s no way that Aileen’s brother could have died in both Florida and Michigan.) For the most part, Aileen shrugs off his comments but the character of the documentarian is an important one. His character serves to comment on the strange nature of fame and crime in America. Aileen Wournos may be an unbalanced killer but she’s also a celebrity. She’s enough of a celebrity, the film tells us, that even after her death, two films will be made about her. One of those films will win an Oscar. The other film will be American Boogeywoman. At its heart, American Boogeywoman is an examination of the morbid streak that secretly runs through American culture. As such, it is slightly more interesting than the typical serial killer exploitation film.
American Boogeywoman was directed by Daniel Farrands, who has recently made a career out of directing somewhat distasteful true crime thrillers. His most famous film, The Haunting of Sharon Tate, is surprisingly effective. His worst film, The Murder of Nicole Brown Simpson, is perhaps one of the most offensive films made over the past decade. Farrands is not a bad director but his choice in material will always be problematic for many viewers. American Boogeywoman is one of his better films, if just because it has enough self-awareness to realize how ludicrous it all is.