JUNE 6, 2009
In my review for Bundy, I pointed out that the film did a good job of accurately depicting Bundy, but also failed to provide any of the context, and that as a result I felt that someone unfamiliar with Ted Bundy and his crimes would probably be left cold by the film, as it didn’t tell a story so much as present a few snippets in the life of a real person. And since the same filmmaker (Michael Feifer) was responsible for B.T.K., I thought I would try to prove this theory, since I know very little about the real BTK killer.
And it seems I was right. While Kane Hodder is pretty damn good in the role, I came away from the movie with almost zero understanding of the man, why he did what he did, how people were affected by it, etc. The victims’ families are never even mentioned, let alone shown, and the police investigation is completely ignored until the film’s final 10 minutes, and even that is rather vague.
Now to be fair, the film begins with a disclaimer that it is a “Fictional Story” about a “Real Person” (these words are capitalized, for some reason), so not sticking to the facts isn’t the issue, especially since I don’t even know what those facts are. But the movie’s “Fictional Story” is pretty goddamn loose; it’s little more than a series of scenes where BTK (real name is Dennis Rader) goes about his job as a compliance officer (does Wichita, KS really require you to keep your grass under 3 inches long?), kills some random person, or works on his letters to the police in his workshop. You can cut any half hour out of the movie and it wouldn’t matter, as there is no real sense of how much time has passed, if the cops are getting closer, etc.
If you’re going to spend the entire movie with the killer, you should be able to get into his head a bit and see what makes him tick. Well, the movie certainly does get into his head, as the ending seems to suggest that the entire film was a dream. It would have been interesting if the guy woke up and you discover that he wasn’t even the killer, just some random loser who WISHES he was the killer, but that doesn’t seem to be the case.
It doesn’t help that the closest the movie gives us to a sympathetic protagonist are BTK’s wife and two daughters, and they are all played by some of the worst actresses I’ve ever seen. Given director Michael Feifer’s attitude toward casting (on another movie he proudly admitted to giving roles to friends and family members rather than actual actors), it’s not too surprising how bad they are, but since they provide the film’s only “outside world” point of view, it would have been nice if their scenes weren’t so laughably bad as a result of the “actresses” giving jaw droppingly terrible line readings or doing their best to appear hysterical (and instead merely coming off as possibly brain damaged).
Another problem is the dialogue. Everything the characters say is broad and unnatural. Why would a daughter randomly (and un-provoked) tell her mother that a friend’s little brother had broken his arm skateboarding, other than to introduce a plot element (the kid was supposedly on a boy scout trip with Dennis, so his wife knows he was lying about where he was). Instead, BTK goes to kill a hooker that had taken his money without fucking him, and when he gets to her house, he confronts her husband, who calmly asks “Are you cheating on me?” instead of something like “Hey, what are you doing in my house in the middle of the night, asshole!” (he also doesn’t wake up despite his wife screaming and yelling just outside the door).
Kane, however, is a minor revelation here. He’s been around for over twenty years, but I think this is his first lead role (not counting Jason or whatever), and he acquits himself nicely. Despite his massive size, he manages to make BTK feel small and pathetic, particularly in the scenes where he’s going about doing his job. If a big studio was doing the film, they’d probably cast someone like Paul Giamatti or another “everyman” type (since that’s what he was), instead of a known “movie killer” like Kane. But since Kane has done 99% of his popular work completely covered in makeup, you are literally seeing a different side of him. It was a damn good choice, and he is probably the only really strong point of the movie.
After watching the movie I went on Wikipedia and read the page. One thing the movie definitely doesn’t bother with is that the real guy got caught years after his last kill, which I actually find kind of interesting. His last recorded kill was in 1991 and he got arrested in 2005; I would rather watch a movie about what he was doing that whole time. In the movie, it’s not even known if he had killed anyone prior to the start of the film, and the story appears to take place over a couple of weeks at most. I understand fictionalizing the story for dramatic reasons, but why remove everything that made him interesting in the first place? Yeah, it’s still ironic to see him give a woman a ticket for parking her car incorrectly in her own driveway because “it’s the law” and then go kill someone for no reason, but it’s hardly as compelling as the context for it all that the movie ignores.
I also went ahead and watched the extra features. There’s a commentary with Kane and Feifer, but it’s pretty boring other than pointing out that some of it was shot in my town (Sherman Oaks) and some other shooting location stuff. I was hoping they would explain the ending, but they don’t even bring it up. Also, while the back of the DVD doesn’t bother to mention it (maybe because there’s a green vertical line running on the left side for some reason), there is a 20 minute making of that is surprisingly informative, focusing on the nitty gritty and issues with amateur actors (and Kane providing a not-very-good but still amusing Chris Farley impression) instead of “I enjoyed making this movie, it will scare you!” type comments mixed in with a bunch of film clips. It also showed me what Feifer looks like, so I know to avoid him should I find myself in his vicinity, as he probably doesn’t like me very much. I also want to point out that the piece is presented in 16:9 anamorphic, which is much appreciated, especially since LG can’t even bother to provide as much for the actual film itself half the time. Speaking of their shitty DVDs, they are getting worse. Now, in addition to the FBI warning and LG logo that can’t be skipped, they also force you to watch the “The commentary isn’t our point of view” disclaimer, as well as a logo for another studio (Barnholtz). WORSE, they don’t let you access the menu once the trailers start, you either have to watch them or skip them one by one. Assholes.
Here’s hoping David Fincher decides to make his own version. He’s good at this type of thing. Feifer... well, while he is clearly better at making serial killer films than anything else, he still hasn’t proven he can make one that someone new to the story can find as accessible as someone who knew the true story inside and out, even if he's telling his own version of it.
What say you?