2002, R, 96 min. Directed by Matthew Bright. Starring Steffani Brass, Boti Ann Bliss, Michael Reilly Burke.
REVIEWED By Marrit Ingman, Fri., Oct. 18, 2002
I can praise this latest effort by screenwriter and cult filmmaker Bright, whose dark, satirical urban fairy tale Freeway gave Reese Witherspoon a well-deserved leg-up into stardom. But I can't recommend it. Movies like this leave critics scratching our heads. This is on the one hand a graphic dramatization of the crimes of Ted Bundy (played by erstwhile 90210 regular Burke), from his first killing in early 1974 to his execution in 1989. On the other hand, Bright's film wants to be something bigger and more interesting, depicting the process of 1970s America losing its innocence: Once a curio of psychology classes and the subject of dispassionate chatter over cocktails, the “sociopath” appears behind the dimpled, charming face of the guy next door. Bright achieves a tense, disquieting home-movie familiarity throughout the film -- in the glaringly green grass, in the tacky fluorescent glare of supermarkets, in the kitschy interiors, in the casual way Bundy's female victims walk unescorted after dark and stop to help him pick up books dropped “accidentally.” Bundy, a handsome, neatly dressed, and by most accounts pleasant young man for whom the term “serial killer” was coined after he confessed to 28 murders, duped us all, and Bright presents him as a sexually dysfunctional Republican nerd. Like the similarly themed Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, Ted Bundy does not exactly hype its subject as a slasher film would, nor does it take the solemn docu-drama approach; Bright, who is a satirist at heart, uses black humor to keep Ted at a distance. (Ted is so unassuming and bland that he can shoplift conspicuous objects, like a television set and a giant potted tree, in broad daylight and carry a lifeless body out to his car in full view of nearby pedestrians.) It's a peculiar gambit, combining real-life horrors with dark comedy. Add in some busy brass funk reminiscent of Blood, Sweat & Tears and some serious gore (courtesy of effects master Tom Savini, who also cameos), and the film strikes an uneasy balance between sinister suspense and hipsterish irony. As evidenced by Freeway, Bright is gifted enough to combine elements of schlock and exploitation fare with an arthouse sensibility, but Bundy is muddled. A montage of Ted's rampages is technically skillful, crisply edited, and full of energy, but as the bodies of nude, anonymous women pile up, it seems likely that Ted's disregard for his victims has rubbed off on the filmmakers. It's impossible to forget that these torments were real; these women have names and survivors. A cogent argument for the violence could be made -- it is frank, presumably meant to shock and disturb, not to titillate, unlike a certain violent Hollywood serial-killer blockbuster currently in release -- but the decision to agree with it is best left to individual viewers. Less cogent is the film itself, which is never really sure what to say about its subject.