Well, Ted Bundy; bit of a catch, wasn’t he, both for the women that loved him and the enforcement officers that caught him. I think that’s the curious dichotomy of this film- it isn’t at all about the heinous crimes that the monster Bundy committed, but rather the weird charisma and charm about the decent-looking guy Bundy appeared to be. So anyone looking for a procedural crime thriller like Zodiac or Seven is going to be disappointed, but others might find it refreshingly different. Indeed, there is something even more monstrously scary about a normal-looking, charming guy like Zac Efron’s Bundy being such a terrible serial killer than, say, what movies usually portray as a ‘creepy-looking shady loner by day, ruthless monster by night’ kind of trope, and indeed it continuously subverts expectations by dialing down details of disappearances/murders in favour ordinary living/romantic involvements. Of course, all that ‘ordinary living’ and romance is really a study in manipulation and lies when you really think about it.
Part of the fascination, I think, regards serial killers is the whole ‘monster amongst us’ angle- the idea that we don’t really know who might be walking by us in the supermarket or casually saying ‘hello’ to us in the street. Bundy was certainly a monster, but what repeatedly fascinates is his charm and charisma, his fairly relaxed social eloquence and his impressive intelligence. You can understand how he fooled everyone, including the women who loved him and the women he preyed upon. He looked normal, pleasant, safe- nothing like how such killers are supposed to look, at least according to so many movies with their disfigured monsters as twisted on the outside as they are on the inside.
The irony is that Bundy chose a life of killing women rather than becoming a politician, because his skill set would suggest a success at both. Why exactly he felt compelled towards the former is still a mystery- or at least, its a topic this film is not at all concerned about. Instead it follows the point of view Liz Kendall (Lily Collins), a lonely single mother who falls in love with Ted (brilliantly played by Zac Efron, I felt) and her life with him, her doubts and fears when he is caught by the police and protests his innocence, and the trauma of discovering she has been living with a monster.
It is indeed something of a romance picture, at least at the start- but of course, we know full well the truth about Bundy, so perhaps the film loses some effect of surprise. On the other hand, this is one of those ‘so bizarre it cannot be true’ sort of stories, which lends it a certain fascination anyway. While we don’t really get into the psyche of Bundy or explain his actions, it is peculiarly intriguing to witness his charm and disarming character, how he manipulates and seduces everyone around him. I must confess to quite liking him at one point, and even rooting for him, which suggests that perhaps a hidden agenda of the film is for Bundy to charm the viewer as much as the people portrayed within it. At the end when the names of his victims are put up on screen, that empathy for him is rudely undermined in a sobering reminder of what horrors he had actually done.