Ted Bundy's Human Side, the side most of us are blissfully unaware of, makes an unexpected (and unasked-for) appearance in one of Netflix's latest movies.
Serial killers are a twisted symptom of the twenty-first century, but as much as we hate what they do, we are unerringly attracted to them. One of the more well-known serial killers of the late twentieth century was Theodore "Ted" Bundy, and this movie paints the notorious killer in a different light to that which we're used to. While Netflix itself released Conversations With a Killer publicizing the twisted nature of Bundy's mind, this film pretends that title didn't exist and instead gives us a view of Ted being a man wronged by the law. While it paints a haunting picture of how easy it would be to railroad someone in the justice system of the 70s and 80s, we have to keep reminding ourselves of the sheer horrific nature of Bundy's murders. The title itself comes from the actual statement by Judge Edward Cowart to Bundy on sentencing him, calling the killings, "extremely wicked, shockingly evil, vile and the product of a design to inflict a high degree of pain and utter indifference to human life." The film humanizes Bundy, but the result is more confusing than enlightening.
The scene is set in 1969 when Elizabeth Kloepfer (Lily Collins) meets Ted Bundy (Zac Efron) for the first time. From the opening few minutes, Ted seems to be the perfect boyfriend and stepdad for Liz's daughter, but we are soon clued in to things not being what they seem with Ted as he gets pulled over and arrested. We follow Ted as he moves from state to state, with faithful Liz holding on to him, knowing in her heart that he's the one for her. Eventually, seeing how she's letting the trouble that Ted is going through eat her up, co-worker Jerry Thompson steps in and tries to be a rock for her in this time. Ted moves to trial in Florida, the first ever nationally televised criminal trial in the US, and in a tearful confession, we learn just why Liz feels so personally responsible for Ted's misfortune. Meanwhile, Ted finds himself abandoned by Liz, yet still carrying a torch for her, decides to charm an ardent supporter from his past, Carole Ann Boone (Kaya Scodelario) who helped him and stood by him despite the mountain of evidence against him. Eventually, we see the foregone conclusion come to bear, but the movie is not what you'd expect for something that features Ted Bundy's story.
The thing that immediately strikes the watcher when they watch this film is how much the writers and director put the spotlight on Bundy's interpersonal relationships and how charming he is. If anything it seems as though the film is attempting to warn people against the good-looking stranger, offering a good time. Aside from the bright preachy tones of the after-school special, the disconcerting thing about the film is that, instead of accomplishing this warning, it seems as though it's celebrating the memory of one of America's most offensive and despicable characters. Throughout the film we are asked to side with Ted, to believe him when he says he's innocent, and to imagine what it would be like if he were. But this all flies in the face of the facts of the case and the inevitable conclusion. The paradox that lies just under the surface in this film makes it very hard to watch for some, especially those versed in the lore surrounding Ted Bundy.
While the text is well designed and the dialogue fits the scenes, the entire thing seems more of a fantasy than based on a true story. The actual events surrounding the Ted Bundy killings make for a thrilling rollercoaster ride, and the film just subtly steps over the more exciting and puzzling aspects of the case to offer us a handful of what-if scenarios and attempting to wave the reality away. The film doesn't seem to be about Ted Bundy, the killer, but rather about Ted Bundy, the man, and while the serial killer psycho Bundy that we're used to doesn't even show up in the film, the human Ted Bundy seems to try to make us feel sorry for one of the most heinous mass murderers modern society has dealt with to date. It's a decent script, but it's not the Ted Bundy story you were looking for, or what anyone was looking for for that matter.
The most disturbing thing about the casting is how well Zac Efron fit the role of Ted Bundy. The effortless suave charisma that Bundy exhibited simply rolls off Efron and we find ourselves liking him even though we know what he's done. Lily Collins makes for an utterly tortured Liz, and we can see snippets of what was probably going through her head. Kaya Scodelario offers a stunning performance as Carole-Ann Boone, deeply in love with a man who doesn't love her back, but who she decides lying to herself about is the best course of action. Haley Joel Osment as Jerry Thompson is a little on the shaky side, but Jim Parsons as prosecutor Larry Simpson and John Malkovich playing Judge Edward Cowart make for amazing performances by great actors. The actors (with the exception of Osment's Thompson) seem as though they fit what we expect.
The film suffers greatly from pacing, not because of the events of the film, but because it tries to fit the timeline of Bundy into an hour and ten minutes. The long, drawn-out hunt, the capture, the last confession, the trial, all of it seems rolled into one ball that someone decided had to fit within a space of time allotted for a matinee movie. Granted, the film tries to phrase the story around Bundy and Liz's relationship as opposed to all that awful killing he's been doing, but there are moments in between where the film alludes to something it should have spent more time on.
While I can argue that a lot about the film is bad, the composition of the piece is passable. But it's only passable if you see it for what it is (a romance movie) and not for what it advertises itself as (a fanciful telling of the Ted Bundy story). If you're looking for a romantic story where a woman realizes her partner is a serial killer and spends the rest of the movie worrying about it, then you'd be fine with this composition. I believe it could use less romance and more of a realization of Bundy's depravity. There's no need for graphic depictions, of course, but the tame allusions to his acts don't do much to outline the guy as the depraved lunatic we're used to.
This isn't the Ted Bundy film anyone wanted, but it was made anyway. While it would have worked as a stand-alone film without the Ted Bundy name being mentioned, once you include the guy and don't let the audience know about his horrific acts you're doing the victims a disservice. What it does show is how easily Bundy could charm his way into people's hearts. Efron's leveraging of his good looks to play the serial killer should serve as a warning to all of us. If you're interested in Bundy, and you know the history behind him, you should probably give this film a miss. If you're starved for something to watch and you like the human side of serial killers, then this might be closer to what you're looking for, but it lacks all the blood and guts that you're used to. If I had to describe it, I'd say that Netflix took a perfectly good story and made it into a movie that is, at best, only average.Disclaimer : The views expressed in this article belong to the writer and are not necessarily shared by trinikid.com