In 1981, 17-year-old Anthony Jacques Broussard strangled 14-year-old Marcy Conrad to death and jettisoned her body in the foothills of Milpitas, California. The murder shook up the Silicon Valley city, and made enough national noise to catch the attention of Jimenez, a native of the area who was studying film at UCLA. As Jimenez told Vice in a 2017 oral history of the movie:
“There was a news story about a kid who dumped a body and took his friends to see it. I was in a screenplay class at UCLA, and I wrote it for the class. Most of the characters were based on people I had gone to high school with. I thought it spoke to a mood that young people were feeling at the time — feeling detached from things and wanting to zone out.”
“River’s Edge” is bleak, but had Jimenez attempted a wholly faithful retelling of this awful saga, he would’ve wound up with something like “Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer as a Young Man.” Two things the film gets right are Broussard’s physical bearing and emotional vacancy; according to expert psychological testimony in his 1982 trial, he was an intimidatingly big kid devoid of feeling for other human beings. The defense tried to draw sympathy from the jury by calling psychiatrist Dr. Samuel G. Benson Jr. to the stand, who posited that Broussard’s mental development had been halted by the death of his mother when he was eight years old. Benson ultimately concluded that Broussard was “a chronic paranoid schizophrenic with transient organic brain disease caused by drug abuse.”
Given that he was a minor at the time of the murder, Broussard could not be sentenced to death, so the judge hit him with 25 years to life.
“River’s Edge” might be fictionalized, but Hunter and Jimenez were determined to capture the conspiratorial amorality that led Broussard’s friends to cover for him. Did they succeed? It depends on who you ask.