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True Crime Docuseries Review: Conversations With a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes


 Conversations With a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes landed on Netflix in January, 2019.  This would be prolific true crime director Joe Berlinger's first docuseries, and a beginning to a shift in his career away from traditional documentaries for a few years.  In May of the same year, Netflix released Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile, a feature film about Bundy that was also directed by Berlinger.  This was his second feature film, having directed Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 in 2000.  We all have things from our past that we regret.

Not only has Berlinger released a lot of true crime content, but there is generally a consistent measure of quality that comes with his work.  The true crime space can be one with messy, sensationalized, distracted content, and for the the most part Berlinger provides well rounded material.

Converstions With a Killer is about American serial killer Ted Bundy.  Rooted in recorded conversations with journalist Stephen Michaud, the docuseries aims to provide some insights into who Ted Bundy was.  Some insight did come through, but for the most part it still felt like standard docuseries material and not a project that really lifted a vail and expose us to what it is that pushes a horrible person like Bundy to commit their crimes (I have just started watching a docuseries that will be reviewed in a few weeks that really does provide this kind of insight, coincidentally also directed by Berlinger).

There is a lot of interesting material from the voice of Ted Bundy, but not to the depth that I had anticipated.  The biggest revelation into Bundy is how he seemed to view himself as a victim.  He could not accept the conditions of being in jail, believing that his fate of confinement is something that was unnessecarily cruel, which is very ironic due to the incredible pain he injected into so many people's lives.

There is a solid selection of interviewees to educate the viewer on the crimes that were committed as well as the perception people had of Bundy.  One interesting element is hearing what people have to say about Bundy and then immediately hearing his own thoughts, which generally are very contradictory.  How he viewed himself was a sign of how departed he was from the reality of life around him.

From his perspective, he was always the smartest person in the room.  Having graduated with a degree in psychology and taking some law school classes, he truly believed he was the ultimate authority in profiling and the defence of himself in court.  Through his courtroom trials, we see that he has absolutely no understanding of the situation he is in.  There is never any doubt that he believes he couldn't possibly be convicted of any crimes, being as smart as he was.  The truth is that his own courtroom actions severely hindered his chances of acquittal.

While there are many intriguing elements, this docuseries suffers from odd choices from Berlinger to increase the tension.  There are many times where he applies sequences of quickly edited material together.  While some of the images we see are relevant to what is being discussed, there is also a lot of stock footage that feels completely unrelated.  

What does a clip of a person cross country skiing have to do with Bundy?  Why do we see a dog sticking it's head out of a car window?  Not only did these montages separate me from the momentum that had developed, but they pulled me so far out of the moment that it would take perhaps another ten or fifteen minutes to begin feeling emerged again.  That is, unless there was another over the top quickly edited montage of stock footage.

Conversations With a Killer is a decent enough docuseries, but it isn't great.  There is a lot of captivating material, but it fails to really put the inner Ted Bundy on display.  Perhaps it wasn't fair of me to expect that, but when a lot of the material is coming from the voice of the killer himself, there is a hopefulness that we will get more than just a standard true crime series.

Rating - 3 out of 4 stars

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