Now, don’t overthink what I said right there. This isn’t to say that I’m not intrigued by some of the salacious details uncovered when performing any postmortem of a particular madman’s career; it’s just that I’ve never felt the need to pull back every conceivable psychological layer thinking that there’s – cough cough – a rational explanation buried somewhere underneath. Sometimes, evil is just evil – it requires no further examination – and I think we’d all be better off leaving these nasty culprits in the trash bin of history. Let the scientists and/or psychologists try to figure it all out. Still, fandom and curiosity being what they are, I see that some of us can’t just leave well enough alone. That’s my only point in not following along with the consensus.
Of course, the occasional television series or well-crafted movie might be just enough to tickle my fancy; and that’s pretty much the case with The Black Mass, a 2023 kinda/sorta docudrama that’s alleged to be inspired by real events and is explores a particularly bloody campaign orchestrated by Ted Bundy. (Yes, yes, and yes: that Ted Bundy. He’s a favorite of storytellers near and far, it would seem.) This loose story details the killer’s descent into bloodshed over a dangerous 24-hour period when the young ladies of a sorority house found themselves smack dab in the middle of his sights. It’s winds up being a somewhat artsy affair – well, so far as the camerawork and cinematography are concerned – but I’m not quite convinced that we come away with any greater understanding as to the how’s and why’s one man was driven to do the things that he did.
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters. If you’re the type of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last few paragraphs for the final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
From the film’s IMDB.com page citation:
“Inspired by real events, The Black Mass is set over a 24-hour period in Florida during the winter of 1978 when college girls were being stalked by a serial killer.”
It’s long ago been said that “there’s nothing new under the sun,” and – to a degree – I suppose that’s true. Culturally, we’ve certainly seen a fair number of pictures about serial killers, and – try though they might to deliver a new outlook – storytellers have come up against the same challenges at the end of the day. Structurally, these stories are either about (A) the murderer or (B) the victims – rarely is balance achieved – so it’s important to underscore that no matter how dark, violent, or depraved these tales might be they’re still subject to whatever formula they serve. In that respect, The Black Mass – a title coined from the observation of a survivor alleging the slaughter felt like she was one member in the most twisted congregation gathered – stumbles as often as it crosses the finish line, though this one earns points for trying to render it from some unique camera angles.
For those unaware, the late Ted Bundy (1946-1989) – rumored to have been one of America’s most prolific serial killers – confessed to kidnapping, raping, and murdering over two dozen young women; but it’s long been thought that the real body count involved a vastly higher number. Characterized as a ‘sadistic sociopath,’ Bundy confessed to committing some of the vilest acts imaginable, even taking pleasure and pain on his victims well after they’d expired and begun decomposing. While the truth to just how far and wide his campaign of evil may’ve stretched, experts suggest the man’s charm and disarming tactics rather effortlessly opened far more doors than we’ll ever truly want to know.
Because storytellers have long been intrigued by Bundy as a topic, society-at-large has been treated to a growing number of films, television shows, and books. Essentially, this means that 2023’s The Black Mass is among good yet bloody company as writer and director Devanny Pinn explores a stand-alone massacre of a Florida sorority house believed to have been part of Bundy’s past exploits. Indeed, it’s a grim affair – one that rather painstakingly captures the event and lead-up to it – and it gives a curiously imaginative veneer to what would otherwise be a rather routine descent into homicidal madness.
But like any overused technique it gets a bit predictable after a time.
Mass is a good film, far from being great. My central issue with it is that it strives far too often to be a bit weird visually, even when something a bit more mundane would’ve worked just fine. That and the fact that there’s really no story here – just a note-by-note dramatization of the sorority attack paired up with the mental visions of a convicted lunatic – and I’m left with no functioning assessment of what Pinn and her talented cast and crew wanted to ultimately say about Bundy, other than the obvious fact that he was one sick dude. Given that I knew that going in, one wonders what else all of the fuss could’ve been about.
Certainly, this won’t be the last we hear about Ted Bundy.
Like the Energizer Bunny, this guy – and those intrigued by what he did – goes on and on and on. Perhaps in some parallel universe, our collective frenzy has already risen to the heights of requiring a popular, ongoing television series to detail each and every possible murder at his hands. Like Dr. Richard Kimble on the run in TV’s The Fugitive, Bundy could show up in a different town each week, off some lovely coed in spectacular fashion, and then ride off into the sunset just before being caught by the authorities. The only real difference between Kimble and Bundy – after all – is that Bundy more likely would’ve killed his wife whereas Kimble was wrong accused of the same.
The Black Mass (2023) was produced by Jaguar Motion Pictures, Nitro Maximus, Roman Media, and WendBrook Brothers. DVD distribution (for this particular release) has been coordinated by the fine folks at MVD Visual. As for the technical specifications? While I’m no trained video expert, I still found the sights-and-sounds to this slow-burn to be of exceptional quality. Lastly, if you’re looking for special features? Well, alas, this one is a surprisingly bare bones affair as the disc ponies up only the feature, the trailer, and some collected images. Sigh. I would’ve liked a bit more.
It goes without saying that films exploring the dark underbelly of crime will, likely, always find an audience; and still, I’m not so sure that The Black Mass (2023) will be as successful. Some of my hesitation is owed to the fact that writer/director Pinn packs a bit too much camera-angle into this reasonably trim 82-minute run-time. The dirty little secret is that fans of this stuff don’t show up for the wicked cinematography and the imaginative flourishes, so it’s a bit of a slog wading through some fairly sedate build-up to arrive ultimately at the money shots. Mass isn’t without its merits; its just unfortunate that it takes its sweet time getting to them.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at MVD Visual Entertainment provided me with a complimentary Blu-ray of The Black Mass (2023) by request for the expressed purpose of completing this review. Their contribution to me in no way, shape, or form influenced my opinion of it.