The Black Mass

By: Trevor Chartrand

Readers, please note – if you’re not familiar with the serial killer Ted Bundy, The Black Mass will likely leave you feeling confused and alienated.  Then again, if you are familiar with Bundy and his capture, you’ll also feel just as confused and alienated…but probably disgusted as well.  By making this film, director Devanny Pinn has wasted the time of her crew, her cast, and anyone unfortunate enough to make the mistake of watching it.

To be frank, this film is, by all measures, pointless.  Perhaps that’s cruel to say, but consider this: based on true events, The Black Mass (not to be confused by the 2015 crime drama starring Johnny Depp) takes place in a twenty-four hour span during the winter of 1978, on a day when Bundy (played by Andrew Sykes) attacks a sorority house in Florida, killing one young woman and leaving two others injured. 

The film follows Ted as a fugitive on the run, stalking young women and then brutally attacking them.  The filmmakers capture all of this in a strangely voyeuristic way, and even feature POV shots as Bundy mercilessly beats and strangles his victims.  To see the violence through Bundy’s eyes is visceral and grotesque, and the approach to this material is, in my opinion, in extremely poor taste. 

There is no purpose to a film that, intentional or not, glorifies the perspective of a serial killer.  It’s difficult to understand exactly what the filmmakers are trying to say here, if anything at all.  There is no effort made to develop Bundy as a character.  We do not examine his motivations or his impulses.  In fact, we barely see his face as it’s often out of frame.  There’s no cautionary tale here, no morality story.  No social satire.  All that’s left is a disturbed man bludgeoning people with a piece of firewood in real time.  It’s essentially violence for violence’s sake.

The Black Mass is a novelty act, a dark story with a true-crime gimmick.  Ironically, the movie uses the notoriety and fame of Bundy as a crutch – much like the crutches Bundy used to appear vulnerable to his victims.  This movie wouldn’t have a leg to stand on, so to speak, without Bundy as its anchor.  This narrative is counting on the horror of the true story to elevate otherwise weak material. 

To elaborate, a good chunk of The Black Mass’ runtime essentially features a dull peeping Tom sitting in his car, and later peeking through windows.  Because it’s about Bundy, the peeking suddenly becomes interesting.  At least, that’s what Pinn and her production were hoping for.

To be clear, I do not intend to suggest the filmmakers are exploiting the victims of a real-life tragedy in this film  – that’s really not my call to make – but the one-dimensional portrayal of the women in the sorority house does not offer much in the way of sympathy for the slain.  We spend most of our time with Bundy instead. 

Ultimately, this film’s needless depiction of tragedy (without offering commentary or insight), is perplexing to me.  The Black Mass is unappealing and uncomfortable overall, with too few redeeming qualities to justify its existence.


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