I don’t watch movies often, but I had just finished my last semester of undergrad and I decided I needed to lock the door, turn off the lights, and throw my brain in the garbage bin for a while. So I picked out the newest Netflix release starring Zac Efron and Lily Collins.
Except I couldn’t turn my brain off. I was analyzing and commenting on the whole movie, mainly that the movie felt weird but I couldn’t figure out why. The cinematography? Writing? Story? Story. I don’t know, it felt weirdly pro-Ted Bundy and it made me uncomfortable.
But I think my problem was that I had the privilege of dramatic irony. I knew the ending already because I knew about Ted Bundy before hand, but the characters in the movie didn’t. Therefore, I had to be with them and move through their chronology.
And that’s when the movie started making sense. The movie was weirdly pro-Ted because people were pro-Ted. He was charming. Folks adored him, even if the following night he would kidnap, rape, and murder young women. He had such an air around him that you almost didn’t want to believe it. And it doesn’t help that Zac Efron is Zac Efron and looks like Ted Bundy but better.
Which is why I’m bothering to write this review (Is it a review? It’s just my thoughts on the movie but whatever). The pro-Ted angle mixed with the horrible crimes he committed makes the movie dynamic, which is why it stuck with me. When more of Ted’s crimes come to light, the simulacra of Ted starts to fail. When he finally admits what he did at the end, writing down what happen to the girl’s head on the prison visiting window, you break with Lily Colin’s character. You’re meant to empathize with her. You’re meant to be right there along with her.
It’s an interesting take on an old story that I’m sure will be twisted in some way. People love things that go against our morals (a positive-ish spin on a serial killer story), and so this movie presents us with a disturbing question: would we defend someone as horrible as Ted Bundy merely because we liked him? Many people would say says. Who would we hurt to further protect him? Well, lots of people. Probably women.
Ted, then, if we were to look at this story purely as a text, thus represents normalcy, hegemony. He’s the white patriarchal id who could get away with the shit that he did for as long as he did, and then he had people in his corner defending him because he’s Ted Bundy. I don’t think his story would have been the same if he were black or female, and so white maleness is central to Ted Bundy’s crimes.
Listen, I know. It’s the same critique on something that’s going to continue to exist. White masculinity has hacked itself through America’s fine, fleshy neck for its own enjoyment in terms of cultural colonization, ecological domination, and protection in past and current legislation. America’s been built on the wants of white dudes who expect to get away with their shit and have other people defend their wants. But I think to distill this concept down to one person, Ted Bundy, who does horrible crimes for his own pleasure and flees the justice system for as long as he does reminds us that he is possible because of the system we live in. Especially if we empathized with Ted Bundy, we’re forced to look at how we interact with that same system too.
The more I think about this movie, the more I like it. Yes it’s an old tale but it very much applies to modern times. Who gets away with shit. Who has the hack saw. Who gets hacked. And who gets away with shit. Really makes you think.