No Man of God

A tactile, sweaty and intense view of the attempts to provide closure around one of America’s most notorious killers, based on actual FBI transcripts.

Synopsis: The complicated relationship that formed between the FBI analyst Bill Hagmaier and serial killer Bundy during Bundy’s final years on death row.

In recent years there has been a great deal of focus on Ted Bundy, in both documentary and narrative film format. Each new version attracts some measure of controversy, with accusations of glorifying him and the violence he enacted, turning him into an American folk figure at the expense of his victims. It also functions as a wider tradition of exploring the legacy of male violence and the attempts of disciplines like profiling to try and prevent future casualties through uneasy communion with offenders.

The film follows the relationship between Bill Hagmaier (Elijah Wood) and Ted Bundy (Luke Kirby) as Bundy’s execution date looms. The FBI agent views this as the last chance to provide closure for the families impacted by the crimes, but the dark discussions threaten his own peace of mind.

Luke Kirby not only has to contend with the performances of other actors who have portrayed Bundy, but Bundy himself in tapes and news footage. What he delivers is eerily accurate, without tipping into outright mimicry. Kirby situates himself in the repulsive performativity of Bundy, every line measured to manipulate those around him. This is contrasted with moments of barely concealed rage and fragility – the furthest from a glorifying performance you can get and likely the closest representation of the killer achieved thus far. Wood, in contrast, manages to convey the human weight of hearing the horrible details and forced connection with the man responsible. Both play against one another superbly, sparring in their interactions and competing interests.

No Man of God is a film of sensation, not sensationalism. Cutaways to archive footage with close-ups of bra clasps, lipstick application and women walking do much to imbed the film with an uncomfortable voyeurism – a collision of consumer advertising and sinister detail. A truly electric sequence in which the intimacy between Hagmaier and Bundy reaches a peak, complete with a feverish layering of sound and image that genuinely burrows under the skin is one of the film’s truly special moments. As well as interrogating their particular interactions, the film manages to introduce nuance around capital punishment and the wider media furore surrounding these high-profile criminals.

The conversations that make up the bulk of the film are fascinating, ranging from uncomfortable flirtation, moving into intense intimacy and even at times a more comfortable, even jovial rapport. Hagmaier’s religion features, as do some aspects of his home life, but we are mainly focused on his role as an agent. That his profession immerses him in exploring dark human behaviour that is at odds with society is highlighted in a scene where a woman in the car next to him (who happens to fit the visual profile of Bundy victims) overhears the graphic tapes he is listening to in order to prepare. He is a man consumed with the way he is looking at the situation as he slips further into the same headspace as his interviewee.

A textured study of the interaction between men from very different outlooks that deals with the horror in a way that feels meaningful, rather than exploitative.

4.5 out of 5 stars

4.5 out of 5 stars

101 Films releases No Man of God on digital 13 September 2021 with DVD and Special Edition Blu-ray to follow on 25 October 2021. You can pre-order here.

Author: ScaredSheepless

Film and television fan, with a particular love for horror.

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