Amber Sealey’s chamber piece dramatises a series of 1980s prison interviews undertaken by pioneer FBI profiler, Bill Hagmaier, with Ted Bundy. The resulting film shines a light, as best it can, into the darkest place known to humankind: the mind of a serial killer.
When we meet Ted Bundy in No Man of God, the affability, cocky bravado, the boyish charm displayed in those televised late-1970s court hearings has long since vanished. Here, he’s bitter and forced to reckon with his own mortality. FBI profiler Hagmaier (Elijah Wood) has been charged with interviewing Bundy, in the hope he can provide further insights and, maybe, finally, discuss his revolting crimes and explain why he killed all those girls and women.
Much of the film takes place in a nondescript interview room. The setting is claustrophobic, largely filmed in an array of angled close-ups or tight two-shots, unnerving as hell, always engrossing, the editing is precise, and conversations flow at times like a tennis match back and forth, though initially there’s little but small talk and generalised chatter, so as not to set off Bundy’s propensity to side-track by ranting and to maintain his cooperation. Hagmaier is like a cautious but experienced snake handler coaxing a viper from its burrow.
Luke Kirby’s excellent performance as Bundy is unshowy and hushed, as much about subtle body language as it is softly spoken dialogue. In No Man of God, Ted Bundy is like a collapsing star, he’s slowly sinking into himself, as appeal after appeal fails and a date with Old Sparky beckons. Bundy keeps his head down, literally, speaks in circular fashion and never talks about his crimes directly. He is oblivious to the damage he’s caused, often evasive, constantly playing games, all in a bid to keep the illusory power dynamic in his favour.
Over time, Bundy relaxes in Hagmaier’s presence, but isn’t about to bare his soul. He doesn’t have one. He is incapable of telling the truth because it disrupts his mania for controlling the narrative. Sealey’s movie is all about performance: two men on opposite sides of the law figuring each other out, sussing out agendas, keeping cards close to the chest, developing a mutual trust and teasing out information from each other. Wood is also good in his role, Hagmaier’s mild-mannered guy shtick hides a razor-sharp mind and ability to quietly dominate a scene.
No Man of God sets out to demystify serial killers and achieves its aim. Hagmaier’s sessions with Bundy, for all the time and effort, reveal only a void-like personality with bits of self-justification and self-pity thrown into the mix. Sick of the lies and the half-truths and game-playing, the FBI man sums it all up to the killer’s face: He murdered all those girls and women “because you wanted to.” To map out the inner life and mind of a serial murderer is likely impossible, much of the chart will be blank spaces and question marks, but Hagmaier hits the nail on the head, in terms of motive. Bundy killed because he wanted to, because he could. The realisation is as chilling as it is simple.
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Martyn Conterio | @martynconterio