No Man of God

  • 13 Nov - 19 Nov, 2021
  • Mag The Weekly
  • Fiction

The elevator-pitch description for this claustrophobic drama – which draws from real events, with FBI profiler Bill Hagmaier (Elijah Wood) interviewing serial killer Ted Bundy (Luke Kirby) as the clock counts down to the moment of the killer’s execution – would no doubt result in most people thinking: snooze, not another tawdry, exploitative dredging of our fascination with the misogynist murders. But director Amber Sealey manages to partially deconstruct the interview-room genre with an edgy, semi-experimental approach, bringing a fresh eye to the subject that is only partly ascribable to the fact that she’s a female film-maker. Sure, there’s a bit of feminist reappropriation going on here, but she seems just as interested in delving into genderless issues around empathy, crime and punishment, and storytelling itself.

The plot is quite simple, and so stripped down it could have easily been a piece of theatre. It’s the 1980s and Hagmaier is assigned by the FBI’s new profiling unit to try to get the recently convicted Bundy to talk. No fool under that boyish appearance, Hagmaier really does at first want to find out what makes Bundy tick. But he knows he has to walk a fine line between seducing Bundy with an intelligence that matches the killer’s own without pandering to him or colluding. Over a series of interviews spaced out over several years, the two men form, if not exactly a friendship, a weird kind of bond that means Hagmaier plays a crucial role in the final endgame when he’s asked to assess if Bundy is insane or not.

Both actors contribute knife-sharp timing and the kind of intensity needed to make this essentially two-man setup work. Kirby apparently really nails the sound of Bundy’s voice and weird smug affect, but it never feels like an impression. Sealey and her crew keep the camera mobile and the editing nimble to add propulsion to the drama, especially by deploying strange flash cuts of archive footage and earlier shots to shake things up. In perhaps the most extraordinary scene, the camera slowly zooms and tracks in on a TV production assistant who barely even gets a line of dialogue and isn’t named in the credits; her face becomes a mirror for us all as she listens to Bundy recount some of the crimes he’d never confessed to previously before the state finally ends his life.