I’m not going to spend any time here wondering about America’s obsession with serial killers. It’s a fascination that clearly isn’t going anywhere. Not so long ago, in 2019, we saw the releases of Netflix’s Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes, as well as Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, and Vile, which starred the former teen heartthrob Zac Efron as the infamous killer. And this year, we’ve got the releases of No Man of God and Ted Bundy: American Boogeyman which stars another former teen dreamboat, Chad Michael Murray.
While Ted Bundy is also extremely popular fodder for true crime books and podcasts, perhaps it’s his proximity to attractiveness that makes people want to make movies about him. Ted Bundy wasn’t attractive: he was a misogynistic creep. The mythologizing of Bundy is gross, but understandable; he was a remarkably terrible person. This movie perpetuates this, but it doesn’t hide that at all — after all, by calling the film American Boogeyman, it is clear with it’s intentions.
Maybe you want to forget for a second that Ted Bundy was a real person who killed real people. Maybe you just want to watch a movie where your favorite former teen heartthrob Gilmore Girls star plays a conniving killer. I won’t judge you, it’s been a rough year. And, that’s exactly what I’m doing right now. I guess you could ask the question, “would American Boogeyman be a good movie if it were fiction?”.
Written and directed by Daniel Farrands, American Boogeyman plays out like a horror movie, beginning with plucky scary-movie music and a swift beheading. Presumably, Daniel Farrands watched Mindhunter (or hey, maybe he read the book) and he must have decided it’d be interesting to show how the FBI worked with law enforcement on Ted Bundy’s case. And so, our horror film is split into equal parts horror/thriller and police procedural.
If a film doubles down on showing us what a misogynistic loser Bundy was, along with showing us the hardships women face in male-dominated workplaces, does that excuse the film from, ultimately, exploiting and capitalizing on violence against women? American Boogeyman seems to introduce us to the character of Officer Kathleen McChesney in an attempt to do just that. Kathleen McChesney (Holland Roden) is even shown coming up with the term “serial killer”, the term usually attributed to Robert Ressler (played here by Jack Hays).
American Boogeyman tries to make us think that it cares about victims, but really, it cares about being salacious entertainment. And it succeeds there! There’s a completely gratuitous scene that goes on for almost 5 minutes in which Bundy is rejected by a woman, and then completely freaks out. And I do mean completely. There’s also a nod to Bundy’s mysterious parentage. Salacious, indeed.
You could say that there are some good, redeeming things about this movie. For one thing, it looks great, visually. The production value and cinematography is well done, for the most part. The exception to this would be a few scenes where Bundy is “in the zone’ and the camera focuses in and out, blurring around the edges. We get it, Ted Bundy’s totally out of control (insert eyeroll emoji). The costume designs are great and, quite possibly, one of the more historically accurate details of the film. The sound design and soundtrack is that of a slasher film, especially in those crazed unfocused scenes where Bundy is bludgeoning his victim.
There are some comically bad moments, and I probably would have really enjoyed them if this film was just a slasher film, a work of fiction. An example: Ted Bundy beating an already deceased victim while her roommate sleeps – the roommate doesn’t realize what’s happening because she doesn’t have her glasses on. Absolute slapstick. Teenage victims can be fun horror movie fodder, but to use them as such in a true crime retelling is cringeworthy.
You can decide for yourself if this is a positive or a negative, but I thought Chad Michael Murray looked a lot more like Robert Pattinson in The Lighthouse than he did like Bundy. American Boogeyman is, for the most part, an entertaining film, with decent performances. It’s not bad. But it’s really not a film we needed, nor one that I can recommend. To answer my earlier question, American Boogeyman would be a solidly okay film, if it were fiction.
Ted Bundy: American Boogeyman is coming to VOD and DVD September 3
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