Joel (2018)



In 1989, Long Island native Joel Rifkin killed his first victim in what was the beginning of a 4-year murder spree. By the time 1994 rolled around, this prolific serial killer had 17 dead prostitutes under his notch and would have kept going if it hadn’t been for a minor traffic incident that pulled him over one dark and evil evening.

The film, JOEL, captures the cold and desensitized persona of a man trapped within in own monstrous conviction. Rifkin grew up in the upper-middle class suburbs of East Meadow, NY with a learning disability and lack of social skills. Often teased and bullied, Joel Rifkin became the quintessential loner, finding solace with his mother and watching television. During a viewing of Alfred Hitchcock’s Frenzy, Rifkin had an epiphany that drew him closer to the darkest point of depravity. And he suddenly found himself obsessed with both sex and strangulation.

JOEL is a well-made film told in first person, which dives head on into the complexities of a killer’s intents.  While an immediate detachment from his shocking confession from the start of the movie leaves you chilled, it’s hard to imagine an ounce of warmth exists within this malicious man.

While most of the serial killer followers know all about Joel Rifkin’s horrific murder spree between 1989 and 1993, many are simply unaware of his upbringing. Joel’s birth parents were 20-something year old college students, the father being an army vet. According to the film JOEL, he was never fully accepted by his father, thus adding to his darkened retreat into a deeply horrifying world. However, the movie neglected to mention that Rifkin was adopted as a baby by an upper class Jewish couple who were very attentive to his rearing.

As previously mentioned, Joel Rifkin had learning disabilities, was frequently bullied at school and eventually became a recluse. His relationship with his mother as per JOEL seemed to be the most stable area in his life. Which leads to the question – what made Joel Rifkin embark on a killing spree targeting women? In particular…prostitutes?

JOEL is an interesting case study from the killer’s POV. The aloofness, detached and sedated mentality which occupies his mind allowed him to justify his morbid actions and essentially…how it managed to catch up with him.  He faults himself for his carelessness which lead to his capture and the discovery of the dead body in the back of his truck (victim #17).  Through this random traffic incident, Rifkin’s bloody carnage had abruptly ended.

The only negativity about JOEL is the lack of interaction between Rifkin and everyone that surrounds him…family, colleagues, or even street strangers. Viewers only get to see his contact with each victim (some of which are mere numbers and not named) and are left with very little homage paid to his casualties. Basically, there is no connection amongst the portrayed characters. The audience is left to judge whether or not Joel really did have a decent relationship with his mother, as there is literally nothing else to go on. That was a bit disappointing, however this is still highly recommended

Having been brought up on Long Island, NY during the 80’s and 90’s where the majority of families come from semi – exceptionally wealthy means, the Joel Rifkin killings received massive attention. To live amongst a serial killer in such an affluence suburb was unheard of! In addition, there are actually no real full length films revolving around Rifkin until JOEL came along. Had John R. Hand added a little more interactivity between the culprit and his surroundings, this would have become a 9 out of 10 film. I had hoped to see more of those who had influenced Joel Rifkin and subsequently, turned him from a social outcast to a cold blooded murderer if it hadn’t already been part of his DNA.