Director Amber Sealey and writer Kit Lesser suggest that we do not need such a film. Instead, ‘No Man of God’ is a film about Bill Hagmaier, the FBI profiler who spent years interviewing Bundy and, in the process, aided in the understanding of murderers as well as gaining a relatively close relationship with the convicted serial killer. As played by Elijah Wood, who also serves as producer, Hagmaier is a thorough professional, committed to his task of profiling Bundy with psychological documentation but without the bullishness or perversity that might typically be used for such a character. Rather, he is the epitome of the mild-mannered all-American, often framed in relation to his faith as he prays before leaving his house, touches a cross that hangs from his rear-view mirror, diligently writing reports at his desk and talking patiently with his son. It is easy to see why Hagmaier’s boss, Roger Depue (Robert Patrick), trusts him with this important role but also worries about him as Hagmaier’s work on Bundy increasingly places him in an uncomfortable public eye.
Aside from scenes at Quantico, much of the film takes place at Florida State Prison where Bundy awaits execution, especially in the interview rooms where the two men meet. Despite being largely a film of two people talking, ‘No Man of God’ is far from being staid or sedentary. The narrow spaces are filled with the magnetic presences of the two men, Wood’s large eyes and perpetually boyish face expressing both a sense of wonder and detachment. As Bundy, Luke Kirby is electrifying, charismatic without being charming, monstrous but undeniably human. When Bundy describes Hagmaier as his best friend, he seems honest in the words but indifferent nonetheless. These interchanges recall the best (and most frightening) moments of ‘The Silence of the Lambs,’ suggesting what that film might have been like had it consisted primarily of Clarice Starling and Hannibal Lecter’s conversations.
The other performances are also committed, especially Aleksa Palladino as Bundy’s lawyer Carolyn Liberman. The contradiction of Liberman defending a man who happily killed women much like her is apparent to the viewer but never laboured, and her passionate opposition to the death penalty is palatable. Never do Liberman and Hagmaier become antagonistic, not least because Hagmaier has no connection to Bundy’s legal case, purely his psychological one. As the conversations continue over several years, Hagmaier becomes a regular fixture around the prison, the guards and administrators accepting him as one of their own. Nonetheless, the prison is never less than harrowing. Cinematographer Karina Silva captures the tight spaces where the sharp angles of Kirby’s face seem to jut against the walls, which helps to make Bundy an unsettling presence despite the lack of on-screen violence. A late sequence between Bundy and Hagmaier takes place in a gymnasium hall, and despite the wider space Hagmaier never seems more trapped than he does here as Bundy narrates his stalking and killing technique. The sequence is chilling in its naked confrontation with cold human savagery, a nakedness lacking in the propagandistic interviews that TV evangelist Dr James Dobson (Christian Clemenson) conducts with Bundy.
The sensationalist air of Dobson’s interviews points to the ongoing interest in serial killers within wider culture, an interest that this film enters into dialogue with. Serial killers occupy, in some cases, a literal celebrity status, even the fictional ones. This status can point to a cultural morbidity, depending on the form that our interest takes. This interest fuels the cinematic serial killer genre, television series and true crime documentaries and podcasts, which can become exploitative and even hold up these murderers as some sort of counter-cultural heroes. Through a focus on Hagmaier and interest in profiling, as well as the portrayal of Bundy as an intriguing object rather than an interesting person, ‘No Man of God’ delivers a sober portrait of a profession somewhat lacking in cinematic treatment. Moreover, the film presents engagement with the phenomenon of serial murderers as an investigation into banal violence rooted in misogyny more than anything else. Rather than being any sort of rebel, Bundy comes across as a woman hater who was simply more violent than any number of men who abuse women, or perhaps was more ostentatious and therefore got caught. This makes the film all the darker, as the seemingly incomprehensible becomes every day, dissected under a verbal microscope in all its grotesque mundanity. The combination of clinical presentation with human expression results in an intriguing, sometimes disturbing and always compelling watch.