No Man of God REVIEW – Not Your Usual Serial Killer Film

Always a pleasure to see Elijah Wood on screen.

No Man of God
No Man of God

Directed by Amber Sealy from a script by Robert C. Cargill (writing as Kit Lester), No Man of God is a refreshing take on the recent resurgence of serial killer movies, especially those about Ted Bundy. For once, the story isn’t told from the point of view of the killer. Instead, we see Ted Bundy (Luke Kirby) through the eyes of Bill Hagmaier (Elijah Wood), an FBI profiler who visits Bundy both to do a psychological work up on the guy, and also to try to wrangle some confessions out of him. He’s on death row, and that’s not going to change, but a truthful confession, it’s hoped, can bring some level of closure to the victims’ family members.

Elijah Wood has lately played a big part in bringing a lot of visually stunning, less-than-mainstream horror films through his role as a producer. Movies like Mandy and Color Out of Space might at first seem to have very little in common with a serial killer movie, but Sealy’s visual style as well as her careful attention to shot composition and meticulous editing mean that No Man of God has more in common with these movies than you might at first think.

It’s interesting to see a true crime movie that’s told through the eyes of an outside observer, and doesn’t linger on the killer. It’s Hagmaier’s story, and there’s not a scene that he’s not in. This means that when Bundy leaves Hagmaier’s sight, he also leaves ours. We only see him when Hagmaier does. This is the genius of the script and the directing. We’re able to step back and see exactly how pathetic Bundy really was, and we realize that he doesn’t deserve all the fascination he’s gotten over the years. He deserves our ridicule, and that’s exactly what this film evokes.

Hagmaier is about as conventional a guy as you can get. Nice little house, married, kids, prays every morning before he goes to work. The contrasts between the two characters couldn’t be more stark. Hagmaier is so straight that he doesn’t want to see crime scene photos. He tells his boss that a detailed biography will do. He wants to keep his distance. But that distance becomes harder to maintain as the movie goes on.

One small thing that occasionally works against the film is Woods himself. His performance is great, but he’s sometimes just not believable in his role as an FBI agent. As much as Sealy tries to use camera tricks to make Wood look taller than he really is, truthfully, he still comes off looking like a kid who’s cosplaying in his dad’s suit. Woods is 39 years old, but even those little spots of grey on the sides of his hair don’t make him look much older than his mid-20’s. But even this sometimes works, because it highlights the character’s vulnerability in the face of this psychological snake oil salesman.

Bundy comes off as the sociopath that he is. There’s never a moment where we feel even brief sympathy for him. There are occasional cracks in his faux level-headed facade, but only about things that affect himself. Never once is there a word about his victims unless Hagmaier pushes the subject. And even then, there’s never even a second of remorse.

Sealy keeps the visuals interesting, which is good considering that much of the movie takes place in an interrogation room. The editing is fantastic. The camera shots are more conventional when the two main characters are having a more or less friendly discussion, but whenever things start to get tense, the shots become shorter, more frenetic. Shots of Hagmaier turning on a tape recorder, then Bundy taking a used piece of gum out of his mouth, both seemingly casual acts, last less than a second, emphasizing the tension underneath the surface.

The cinematography has the dull tones of an early-80’s newscast, putting us directly into the film’s milieu. I had no trouble at all believing in this world.

No Man of God is extremely refreshing. We’ll probably never stop obsessing over serial killers, and they’ll probably always be stars in one form of media or another, but No Man of God does something that I’m shocked I haven’t seen before – it presents the killer as the unambiguous villain. There are no former teen heartthrobs in this, and there are no moments designed to get the audience to relate to the killer’s humanity. In that sense, the movie is almost heroic.

Review screener provided.

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No Man of God
No Man of God comes as close to perfect as any true crime movie in the past ten years or so. With stunning visuals and powerful performances, the movie is a fresh take on serial killer movies that finally removes the killer as the story’s protagonist.