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Originally published Thursday, July 26, 2012 at 11:20 AM

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'Confluence:' On the trail of a Northwest serial killer

Documentary filmmakers Vernon Lott and Jennifer Anderson approach the haunting story of several disappearances and murders along the Washington-Idaho border 30 years ago with a compelling but compassionate tone.

Special to The Seattle Times

Movie review 3.5 stars

'Confluence,' written and directed by Vernon Lott and Jennifer Anderson. Unrated. 53 minutes. Northwest Film Forum through Thursday.

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If there were a prize for best title for a documentary, "Confluence" might very well take it.

In this haunting, compassionate and discerning overview of a series of 30-year-old Northwest disappearances and grisly murders, "Confluence" refers both to the union of the Clearwater and Snake rivers in the Lewis-Clark Valley — where the unsolved crimes took place — and, more ironically, the stubborn complexity in making assorted evidence flow into a singular case against a likely suspect.

There is also the confluence of emotional fallout from the aging horrors, which might be receding into history but are still trailed by raw feelings.

Filmmakers Jennifer Anderson and Vernon Lott ("Bad Writing") interview family survivors of the five young people (ages 12 to 35) who were living on either side of the Washington-Idaho border when they vanished (the bodies of three females were eventually discovered).

The blend of resignation and grief in these relatives and witnesses is presented with great delicacy by Lott and Anderson, a welcome tone right now in the wake of the Aurora, Colo., massacre and our own recent epidemic of gun homicides in Seattle.

Investigators from various jurisdictions in Lewiston, Idaho, and Clarkston and Asotin in Washington also speak with candid perspective and tempered frustration — if not complete agreement — about the crimes.

All seem convinced of the killer's identity (some even name him, and the filmmakers disclose his whereabouts), but can't make a charge stick.

Without exploiting the situation, Lott and Anderson make their own stylistic case for this story as an example of Northwest noir. Their various, somehow disquieting images of the valley, shot at some distance, suggest the kind of grim, residual isolation a person or community can feel when burdened by such a legacy.

At the same time, their connect-the-dots, efficient storytelling makes "Confluence" as compelling as it is soulful.

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