When it comes to true-crime serial killer films directed by women, they are few and far between. For most people, the first director that comes to mind is Patty Jenkins for Monster, about serial killer Aileen Wournos. So when it was announced that there was going to be a new Ted Bundy movie most people groaned. With the addition of NO MAN OF GOD, there would be 10 films dedicated to this vile human being. However, this is the only Ted Bundy film directed by a woman. And because of that, NO MAN OF GOD hits differently than any other Bundy-inspired movie out there.
In Amber Sealey’s NO MAN OF GOD, it’s 1980 and Ted Bundy has been sentenced to death by electrocution. In the years that followed, he agreed to disclose the details of his crimes, but only to one man. NO MAN OF GOD is based on the true story of the strange and complicated relationship that developed between FBI agent Bill Hagmaier and an incarcerated Ted Bundy in the years leading to Bundy’s execution.
What makes NO MAN OF GOD works so well is that Sealey’s not trying to glorify a man responsible for murdering over 30+ women. Instead, she shows who Ted Bundy is without all the flair. Through conversations between Bundy and Hagmaier, the viewer is able to grasp the type of person Bundy is. On the surface, he comes across as charismatic and talkative, making it easy to be drawn to him, and just when you let your guard down for a fraction of a second, NO MAN OF GOD reminds you just how monstrous Ted Bundy is.
This is not a flashy movie. Sealey scraps away all the glitz and glamour that is so often seen and talked about when discussing Ted Bundy. Playing Bundy is actor Luke Kirby who is performing alongside Elijah Wood who plays FBI agent Bill Hagmaier. The majority of their interaction takes place in one room where they ping pong questions and answers to one another. In simpler terms, it’s a character study. Sealey successfully captures the unsettling intimacy between the two. So often with films centered around serial killers, the audience is shown visuals of the victim’s mutilated body and/or are told in excruciating details what these women endured. However, NO MAN OF GOD strips that away, shows respect to the victims, and instead focuses on how Hagmaier finds himself wrapped up in Bundy’s twisted mind games. Resulting in Hagmaier questioning if he has similar desires to Bundy.
As for Kirby’s portrayal of Bundy, I was completely blown away. He’s able to possess the charm and good looks that Bundy was known for having while also having the ability to quickly shift into a soulless, cold killer. There are moments where Bundy is humanized. These are challenging moments and moments where I had to check myself to make sure I wasn’t feeling compassion towards him. That being said, I think those moments are some of the most important on-screen. Again, it’s a reminder that cold-blooded killers can appear just as normal as anyone else.
Wood’s portrayal as Bill Hagmaier, one of the original FBI agents that were a part of the Behavioral Analysis Unit, is the perfect companion to the intensity of Kirby’s Bundy. Wood always has that sweet, baby-faced look about him, but when he connects with Bundy and starts to peel back his own layers, he realizes that maybe there’s a darkness inside of him. Wood’s portrayal of Bill is cool, calm, and collected but there are moments where he’s conflicted with his own internal struggle towards how he feels about Bundy. Something I thought was interesting, though I could be completely off base was that when the film ended, I was left more intrigued by Bill than Ted because I’m not so sure he’s as innocent as he appears.
The fascination with serial killers is one I don’t subscribe to but can appreciate those who are willing to take the steps needed to understand the psychology behind violent crime offenders. NO MAN OF GOD does that without relying on gratuitous visuals to get its point across. There are moments where viewers will feel conflicted, challenged, and angry. There are moments where Bundy is humanized because, unfortunately, he was human. The horror of this movie doesn’t fall upon the explicit murder and degradation that his victims experienced (though, that is a huge part of it). Instead, it shows that a killer can be hiding in plain sight and most of us would never know. And if that doesn’t send a chill down your spine, I don’t know what will.
NO MAN OF GOD is now in theaters, On Demand and Digital from RLJE Films.