I long ago accepted that evil is real.
As the founder of my hometown's Race Away From Domestic Violence, I learned very quickly after the event began that it was destined to attract a myriad of those who had experienced domestic violence and the families and friends of many of whom the Hoosier state has lost to domestic violence over the years.
I wish I could say that I've never heard a story like that experienced by Judy Malinowski, but the truth is, as Judy herself was well aware, she was not alone.
Evil, quite simply, does exist.
Patricia E. Gillespie's unforgettable feature doc based upon Judy's story is The Fire That Took Her and, yes, the title does not deceive and even for those of us who've heard story after story involving domestic violence Judy's is profoundly traumatic and profoundly tragic.
31-year-old Judy Malinowski was a mother of two young girls, a former beauty queen whose life was on the upswing despite having been diagnosed twice with ovarian cancer with the second bout having left her struggling with addiction to her pain meds.
On August 2, 2015, Judy's on-again, off-again boyfriend, whose name won't be acknowledged as part of this review, followed her to a gas station where an argument ensued. A frustrated Judy threw a cup of pop at him. The enraged boyfriend responded by dousing Judy with gasoline and lighting her on fire with a cigarette lighter.
Then, he walked away.
Miraculously, Judy initially survived even with third and fourth degree burns over 70% of her body. Doctors thought she had hours to live, however, Judy would survive for two years - long enough that she was able to actively give a deposition from her hospital bed against her one-time fiance' that was essential in her eventual conviction for her murder and sentencing to life in prison without a possibility of parole. After her death, the recording of her deposition was played at his sentencing.
During those two years, Judy was in a coma for seven months, experienced 60 surgeries, and could barely speak or breathe.
The Fire That Took Her is, quite simply, an absolutely devastating documentary. Produced by MTV Documentary Films, a growing presence in in the world of truly life-changing documentaries, The Fire That Took Her is so profoundly relentless that I'd dare say that survivors of domestic violence or other forms of violence may want to have a safe friend or companion with them while watching it. The film begins with a glimpse of Judy's attack captured by a nearby security camera, an attack so evil and so brutally realized that it's difficult to imagine how she survived and how she kept her own spirit inspired for two years.
Quite simply, miraculous.
The Fire That Took Her is a story at the center of true crime and #MeToo, a film that delves deeply within the case and asks a vital question - "How much must women suffer in order to be believed?"
To say that I cried during The Fire That Took Her would be an understatement. I openly cried throughout the 95-minute film, partly out of my own past traumas and partly watching the incredible courage and strength of Judy's mother, her sister, and her two remarkable, remarkable daughters. I was in awe of all of them.
Judy’s story inspired Ohio lawmakers to pass Judy’s Law to create tougher prison sentences for attacks that permanently disfigure or disable.
Her daughters were there at the signing, celebrating their mom’s life, legacy, and vow to help other women.
“Mommy did not die in vain.”
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic