One of the most anticipated Netflix films was released in New Zealand recently, and it has been met with a mixture of reviews. The psychological drama retells the horrific life of serial killer Ted Bundy, creating a tense and saddening depiction of the mess this monster created.
Going into this flick I was concerned about the potential glorification of Bundy’s crimes. With a high budget and immense CGI potential, I thought the film would attempt to recreate various murders, in poor taste to Bundy’s victims. However, I was pleasantly surprised at the route the film ended up taking. Instead of focusing on Bundy’s acts they focused on his persona, which is what gained him headlines and countless deranged fans. Instead of being witness to Bundy’s crimes, the audience followed the killer’s long-time partner Elizabeth Kendall, who watched as Bundy went from her lovable partner to an accused killer in a matter of months. The film was somewhat of a horrific love story, as Liz struggles to cope with the reality of the situation she has found herself in.
For a good portion of the film, audiences got to see the Ted Bundy Liz first knew. The attentive and affectionate man who swept her off her feet. However, the scenes were tinged with discomfort as, unlike Liz, we knew the man he indeed was. The film did an excellent job of building this tension without slipping into heavy-handed stereotypes.
The film has been openly accused of glorifying the serial killer through their depictions of him as a love interest in the film. However, I would like to put a pin in these accusations. Bundy rose to infamy due to, not only his revolting crimes but his strange likability. The man had hoards of followers pleading his innocence because he was so oddly charming, despite his sick habits. If the film had turned its back on this part of the killer, they would have been excluding half of the narrative and the part that makes this crime case so unusual.
Audiences watched Liz spiral into depression and addiction as her former partner faced trial and then execution for his crimes. While we as an audience know that this man is guilty, who only know this through our prior historical knowledge. The film at no point shows that Bundy is lying. We see him commit no crimes, hide no tools or even flash a sinister looking smile. This is exactly how Liz feels, she has been faced with no indisputable facts which point to Bundy’s guilt, so she is trapped struggling with combining the two men she has before her: a loving partner and a ravenous serial killer.
Choosing to follow the court case and Liz’s emotional journey, as opposed to the harrowing fates of so many of Bundy’s victims was an interesting and overall great choice for the feature. Withholding information from the audience helped to make the film a real drama/mystery, rather than just a straight retelling of history. Despite knowing the fate of the real Ted Bundy, and the truth, audiences were still enthralled in the feature and left to wonder what was going to happen next. This is a difficult task for films based on facts, and the flick did a great job of building tension and doubt in an audience that already knows the story they are telling.
Perhaps the best part of this film was the very end, where Liz confronted Bundy to beg for a confession. She had struggled for so long to know the truth, and before his execution she needs it to be able to move on with her life. What followed was an extremely chilling moment where instead of revealing his true disgusting self, Bundy writes on the glass window of his phone booth the weapon he used to behead one of his victims. HACKSAW. The moment is extremely unnerving, despite knowing Bundy’s guilt to finally see this character drop his façade was terrifying. The film also threw in a few flashbacks to Bundy’s crimes, which to be honest I could have done without. We did not need to see anything more to know of his guilt, and the moment was made a bit cheesier because of it. None the less, if we take Liz’s point of view, this one word which slowly fades from the glass window is the only drop in Bundy’s façade through his ten-year imprisonment, court case and years prior. But it reveals the extremely wicked, shockingly evil and vile person he truly is and was while he cared for and loved Liz for all those years. Talk about spine-tingling.
Overall the film did an excellent job and dipping its toes in the horrific crimes of Ted Bundy without appropriating them for a cheap thrill.