Between 1985 and 1989, FBI Agent Bill Hagmaier (Elijah Wood) – one of the first members of the much-mythologised Behavioural Analysis unit – conducted interviews with the convicted serial killer Ted Bundy (Luke Kirby), as part of a program to learn about future dangers by studying captured monsters but also in the dim hope of getting some families closure by having Bundy confirm that he killed their disappeared daughters.
Directed by Amber Sealey (who used to be an actress – she was Wallis Simpson in one of those endless royal bioseries, Bertie and Elizabeth) and scripted by C. Robert Cargill (Sinister) under the pseudonym Kit Lesser, this intense, often two-characters-in-a-room drama has something of the feel of an extended episode of the Mindhunter Netflix series – though the BA interview program also fed into the enduring scenario of Thomas Harris’ Hannibal Lecter stories. Kirby’s Bundy, like Zac Efron in Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile, is a snake of a man, wheedling for unearned sympathy about his plight (he’s under sentence of death) and yet keeping his secrets like bargaining chips. Wood’s Hagmaier, who admits that he got into law enforcement by accident and intended to be a guidance counsellor, has to be tactful with the killer, who could shut down the process any time, but also negotiate with other parties who subtly resent his presence. A fed-up warden (W. Earl Brown) just wants the circus (which extends to crowds outside the prison hawking ‘Burn, Bundy, Burn’ or ‘Have a Seat, Ted’ t-shirts and singing ‘Sha na na na hey hey hey sha na na na Goodbye’ on the eve of execution) to leave town, and pettily ensures Hagmaier can’t keep a promise to view the electrocution because he’s given his ticket away to a relative. In the last few days before the execution, with Bundy still holding back vital details of many of his crimes, seven hours of time is alotted to a smug televangelist (Christian Clemenson) who wants Bundy to claim that he was inspired to kill by pornography – a song the killer is only too willing to sing – and is delighted to get the result he wanted.
The film leans over backwards to distance itself from the supposed Bundy glamour, never losing sight of that fact that he wasn’t just a monster but also a creep and a spoiled, entitled misogynist. His (fictional) woman lawyer (Alkeksa Palladino) puts up a legal fight against his execution, but admits she hates him more than anyone else in the world – and Sealey several times lets the camera get distracted from the monologuing killer to close in on a random youngish, prettyish woman of the kind he murdered, registering either their indifference or profound disturbance in his presence. Over and over in serious films and schlock alike, the question is asked of why people do dreadful things to other people – how many torture porn films have victims shriek ‘why are you doing this to me?’ – and the answer this comes up with (‘because you wanted to’) isn’t exactly a blinding revelation. We certainly have been down this road many times over the decades – in the general serial killer field and the more limited Bundy Business – and I’d not be disappointed if this were the last-ever film on the bastard, but it’s a tactful, engrossing piece.