February 18, 2024

THE BLACK MASS: Don't Judge A Book (or a film) By It's Cover

2023 / 82 min
Review by Josey, the Sudden Cat🙀

In this case, you definitely shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, which suggests The Black Mass is some kind of slasher film. The box art features a collage of the film’s more photogenic female cast members and a silhouette of a mysterious killer, along with a synopsis that carefully avoids who and what it’s really about.

The Black Mass is not another modern horror movie in the vein of Scream and its ilk. It’s about notorious serial killer Ted Bundy. More specifically, the film is an account of one particularly infamous 24-hour period in 1978 when he stalked and attacked several girls from a Florida sorority house. Not only that, the entire narrative is presented - almost literally - from Bundy’s point of view. 

The film follows Bundy (Andrew Sykes) around in his VW Beetle as he methodically targets potential victims, sometimes initiating friendly banter, as well as lengthy segments when he’s peering through the sorority house windows to observe the largely anonymous female characters. For the most part, their conversations and activities are intentionally mundane (and barely audible), save for one hallucinatory shower sequence that reflects Bundy’s view of violence as a sexual act.

Herbie Goes to Florida
We don’t really learn much about Bundy beyond his actions. In fact, it isn’t until late in the film that he’s even clearly shown, after already committing the gruesome murders. It's a conscious creative decision that renders the lengthy voyeuristic stalking sequences especially unnerving. Director Devanny Finn (who also has a supporting role) obviously realizes that she’s not going to reveal anything about Bundy that hasn't been documented in countless other books and movies. The film is simply a reenactment of that horrific night.

At no point does The Black Mass look or play like a horror film, nor are there any twists, surprises or character revelations. However, it’s extremely well made, with believable performances, outstanding attention to period detail and a cinema vĂ©ritĂ© style that instills dread in nearly every scene. The murders themselves are lengthy and brutal, more intended to horrify, not glorify.

Though I can certainly understand why The Black Mass is marketed as a thriller, that’s sort of misleading. This is an uncomfortable film to endure, which is appropriate, considering the subject matter. And despite a nearly complete lack of sensationalism, suspense or meaningful character exposition, the film is morbidly fascinating.




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