America is the country that has contributed - perhaps most of all - to instilling and making concrete the viewer's innermost fears through films. But america is also famous for other primates. The American counterculture of the seventies was the backdrop to the most high-sounding names in terms of death and killings: one above all is Charles Manson, who we will soon find in a new transposition in the upcoming Tarantino film. America is the custodian (statistically speaking) of the highest percentage of criminals and maniacs who have made history: both as regards their criminal method, but also as a media introduction of the fascinating killer and bewitcher. That said, they could not be outdone also from the point of view of the audiovisual products that tell - for years now - the personalities and deviations of certain characters. The making of films of this mold are now a custom for the American tradition ("Summer of Sam" by Spike Lee or the unattainable "Zodiac" by David Fincher, without forgetting his very valuable series "Mindhunter", which will soon come out with the second season), a tradition that also concerns actors who begin their career establishing themselves in a certain genre, and then test themselves with the canonical role that we could define as "unpleasant". It is therefore the turn of Zac Efron, undisputed idol of teenagers from around the world, who grew up under the protective aura of Disney Channel and became popular all over the world with High School Musical films. To shake off that patina of skepticism on the part of analysts, he manages to conquer this "iconic" role of the criminal landscape: Ted Bundy is perhaps one of the most prolific and heinous names in American criminal history and Zac Efron, against all odds, hits the target. Operating from 1974 to 1978, Ted Bundy left a trail of endless death behind him. Rape, kidnapping, tortured and humiliated bodies by necrophilic tendencies, the list is very long. So long that, to date, the investigators have never completely outlined with a precise number. Here it comes into play Joe Berlinger, mainly a documentary maker specializing in crime news. The Blair Witch Project sequel is perhaps his best known title. For Netflix he curated a special on Bundy entitled Making a Murder, with clips and interviews released by the killer himself. The step to get to the fiction film was consequential.
The dark side of an ordinary man
The violent monster, the unscrupulous beast or the occult man, which of these Bundy traits is used as an approach in this new film? Berlinger's film differs from other similar monographs precisely because the focus is on the man and not the killer: the unsuspected man, mellifluous, who continuously conceals and with a natural ascendancy towards the female gender. An unprecedented and little seen Bundy at the cinema that enters and exits his dual personality with an unsuspected ease. The law student, reckless but apparently harmless, the astonished victim (typical his ironic attitude in belittling the facts concerning him), the man in the shadows who frequents the bars, the loving and understanding companion who never misses a gallant attention to his partner. And again: The romantic optimist, the intellectual (as a fetish he has the book Papillon and listens to opera music), the handsome boy with a dazzling smile, a smile that at times (here Zac makes it very well) deforms to a grin left. There are many contradictory aspects of his personality that the film attempts to highlight. The people who gravitated around him are also a fundamental piece on which the film focuses, underlining the influence that Bundy had in the private sphere for people he considered - in his own way - intimate, while at the same time trying to investigate the magnetism he showed for that kind of stranger women, in which he awakened - according to some specialists - an appetite unconscious sexual. Is he the monster or are they the ones who would like to have sex with him despite the atrocities he has committed? the interviews (also from repertoire) during the trial filmed live on TV, with the young girls eager for his glance or his wink are emblematic. The film does not focus on his perversions, showing them to us in a visual way (the monstrosity of his actions will be represented visually through two photos and quick gestures) while with a certain refinement the "words" are used as a means to convey his inhumanity: they will be those pronounced by judge Edward Cowart to express, more than many others, the collective inability to rationalize a psychology like his. Ted Bundy was the killer who - probably first - short-circuited the benchmark evaluation system.
It is, and remains, among the most disturbing killers in public opinion precisely because it was not the usual profile that followed the sociopathic / borderline protocol (therefore at least understandable to human nature), but had a natural tendency to dissimulate, to insinuate itself into lives of others, to make them able to trust him unconditionally: this was his most powerful weapon that makes him even more disturbing. When the film talks about these aspects it does it well, it is clear that they have studied the papers and psychological portraits of these women who have been close to him with skill. The limit lies in the operation at the base, in the need or not to tell this story which, albeit in an unusual way, adds nothing really exciting for the average viewer, who could perhaps find the same satisfaction in a well-structured documentary. The film simply does the job for which it was designed, telling the man, without using a fetishistic approach to his homicidal impulses. Those who know the history of this killer well will find this curious and intriguing aspect, while it is highly likely that for others it will be a harmless film with an excellent interpretation and nothing more. It is interesting to underline some appearances, because this film is a sample of familiar faces between Cinema, TV and Music: James Hetfield (leader of Metallica), Haley Joel Osment (the child of The Sixth Sense), Jim Parsons (who stops the role of Sheldon Cooper to wear those of a lawyer) and to finish an always fundamental John Malkovich.