The “Higgins Haven” house from “Friday the 13th Part III” being rebuilt at the original filming location
Serial killers, and Ted Bundy in particular, have been a hot topic lately, thanks to countless documentaries, biopics, and crime series. All of them seem to be searching for the answer to what prompts them to commit unspeakable acts as they delve into their life story and detail the crimes. This begs the question, is there something unexplored? It turns out that new ground may still exist.
No man of god frames his bedroom piece around Ted Bundy’s final days, but through the lens of a renowned FBI profiler.
No man of god opens with a brief text explaining the rise of criminal psychology and FBI profiling. At FBI Headquarters, Behavioral Science Unit Chief Robert Depue (Robert patrick) reads a list of incarcerated killers to his team. They eagerly claim everyone on the interview list and mine for psychological studies until Depue lists Ted Bundy (Luke Kirby). Sweet Bill Hagmaier (Elijah wood) takes care of it. With a special knack for solving even the most difficult cases, Bill begins to build a complicated relationship with the serial killer for the sake of science. But Bill learns that becoming intimately familiar with evil blurs moral lines and takes its toll.
Director Amber Sealey creates a complex character study that revolves around two powerful performances. Much of the story takes place within the confines of an interrogation room. Hagmaier opens up to Bundy as a way to build trust. In turn, Bundy alternates between cautious, playful, and accepted, but still scary. There is nothing romantic about this depiction of Bundy; Kirby plays him as evil personified with only a glimpse of humanity. As he nears his execution date, he becomes desperate to hold on to life or find solace. The wood is perfectly molded here for Hagmaier’s modest nature who disarms one of the world’s most notorious killers. All of the functionality relies on their discreet pushes and pulls and internal emotional arcs and both tracks are captivating.
Writer C. Robert Cargill (Sinister), as Kit Lesser, based the script on actual transcriptions. Sealey weaves together real footage from Bundy’s time and the crowds that gather to applaud his death. It’s a sobering way to highlight how Bundy’s evil permeates and affects those around him. Hagmaier acts as a proxy, the pure man tainted with corruption for being so close for so long. It’s not just how the tracks convey this or how the script removes any sense of glamor from Bundy’s atrocities. It’s in the way Sealey puts it on the scene. In a late media interview, Bundy recounts in graphic detail his method of murder. Everything is offscreen, Sealy focusing only on the sheepish face of an assistant who loses some of her innocence in real time as she looks straight into the camera.
Everything about production design and camera work adds to the emotional authenticity. It captures the dark essence of the 80s in a muted way that allows performances to take center stage. No man of god draws inspiration from transcripts of actual interviews with the killer and incorporates actual footage, but it’s the performances that set it apart. It might not offer any new ideas to Bundy himself, but it’s not meant to. Instead, Sealey turns the tables by exploring whether it’s possible to empathize, as well as the human cost of understanding a monster. No new revelations about Bundy remain here; he’s quite the remorseless monster you’d expect. But recounting his last days from Hagmaier’s perspective offers a unique and refreshing angle.
No man of god premiered at the Tribeca Festival and hits theaters in August.