Cameron Britton’s chilling depiction of the frank, calmly-spoken, sick-minded serial killer Ed Kemper is the most uncomfortable performance you’ll view this year.
Autobiographical depictions of well-known figures–plagued with bad press or widely-loved–are notoriously difficult to accomplish. Just watch any interview with film star Joaquin Phoenix as he prepared for his role as Johnny Cash, or Forest Whitaker’s sensational turn as Idi Amin.
David Fincher is no stranger to Hollywood, and with cult classics like Se7en and The Social Network under his belt, it’s not like he can’t spot talent. And in Mindhunter, he’s combined a mix of television favourites such as Anna Torv, up-and-coming stars like Jonathan Groff, and the new craze on the block: Cameron Britton.
Has there been an unfavourable review of Britton’s unnerving depiction of infamous mass-murderer Edmund Kemper? We really don’t think so.
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Britton’s been about as close to flawless as you’ll see the entire year. And that really is saying something, because everyone is brilliant. Anna Torv is powerful and commandeering as Dr. Carr; Holt McCallany is outspoken and noble as Bill; and Jonathan Groff is going to soon be very much in-demand because of what he’s just accomplished.
There’s obviously difficulty in conveying someone who isn’t just a product of your mind. But the notion of portraying a figurehead hated nationwide, so recognisable and infamous that you cannot forget his face, Britton pulls off magic to distinguish himself from the murderous monster. Britton as Kemper isn’t just scarily good–and we’ll explain why–but it’s tremendously brave. Most people wouldn’t want to touch him with a barge pole. Some would want to “humanise” the butcherer because that’s what artists do nowadays. Britton simply depicted the sickening truth, and that’s why it hit so hard.
Britton dazzles when partnered with Jonathan Groff’s naive Holden Ford, petrifying him and nearly causing him to collapse, nauseous, with merely a hug.
By far, the best scenes Cameron Britton has on the show are the scenes in which he’s getting interrogated by Jonathan Groff’s increasingly frazzled FBI agent Holden Ford. Britton plays Kemper with such awkward courtesy that it’s wrong. This violent killer should be punching walls and stuck in solitary. Instead, Kemper roams peacefully, friendly with the police officers and seemingly well-read. He keeps up with the news, and he holds eloquent, interesting, involving conversation that baffles not only Holden, but us too.
Britton and Groff’s uneasy chemistry is impossible to look away from. They gauge each other carefully, like the other is holding a grenade ready to blow. Each are bluffing, but neither know how to gamble. Holden is young and naive, and he’s so easily manipulated by Kemper’s easy-going manner that he admits that he actually kind of likes him. The number of times characters have mentioned Holden’s supposed empathy for Kemper, disregarding the horror he’s inflicted in the past, is both worrying and telling. And despite a hug that nearly causes Holden’s lungs to collapse in horror, and this:
Kemper: “Are we friends now, Holden?”
Judging by Holden’s horror, him running and then collapsing out of the room, it’s probably a no. But it’s not unlike Holden to use criminals to get into their heads: how does one think? With a potential, factual, infamous serial killer on the loose next season, Kemper could be a valuable source of information. Frankly, any scene with Britton and Groff as intense as their last one would be welcome. The way Britton slowly towered over Groff, as Groff tried to stand strong, tears brimming helplessly in his eyes…It was sickening. Truly terrifying stuff–and it brought the best out in both actors.
The discord between Kemper’s actions, mind, what he says and does is a terrifying nightmare to wade across.
Kemper, quite like most characters on this show, is a walking contradiction. Where Bill is a rough-sounding tough guy who you really don’t want to mess around with, he is actually an extremely vulnerable man with dear love for his wife and his son, Brian. He’s unafraid to share; unafraid to cry. Holden looks like he’s just graduated from college, and will probably believe a beautiful girl if she told him the sky was pink. Yet he is calculating, manipulative, obsessive and vulgar. Ironically, he likely has more psychopathic qualities than most people on the show, which is going to pose a worry or it’s going to pose one heck of a plot twist.
Because Kemper looks like he’ll smack you, you’d avoid him. Good riddance–the guy probably just wants a quiet spot to read. Perhaps to plot. Kemper doesn’t seem a noisy prisoner…Just one that gets by. And whilst his courtesy is alarming because he’s a serial killer, it’s the notion of simply surviving prison that is the worst. Surviving prison implies that one day, you’ll likely get out. Maybe his behaviour is that good.
If Kemper is that twisted enough to plot that for so long, then it’d be easy to tell everyone to keep an eye on him. But how, when he’s not doing anything?
And in prison, not doing anything probably means more than doing something.
Kemper could feature heavily in next season’s Mindhunter, and in an even bigger capacity than before…if things are looking a certain way.
The notion of an even bigger villain hitting Netflix’s screens next season for Mindhunter is completely terrifying because this year’s villains are enough to give an entire population nightmare for years. But if the theories about the BTK killer/Dennis Rader are right (and they are looking incredibly convincing to the point of definite) then Holden, Bill, Dr. Carr and everyone has another world coming for them.
To put this into context, ‘BTK’ stands for ‘Blind; Torture; Kill’. It was serial killer Dennis Rader’s mantra. His sexual fantasies of murdering woman involved asphyxiating them to death, raping them, and creating disturbing drawings and letters about it. Make no doubt about it: Dennis Rader was not just remorseless about his many crimes. Rader was proud of it, and he wanted to show it to the world. Ironically, the life story of Rader, or ‘BTK’, was written extensively by John E. Douglas, who is the former FBI agent our very own Holden Ford is based off.
With Kemper and Holden’s strange bond forming this season, could it be possible that they team up next season to bring down the infamous Dennis Rader? The thing is: how? How will they team up, if they do at all? Kemper would surely need to be released from the prison. And what even is Holden’s position within the bureau anymore after he stormed off? Will it all remain in the law, or are we going to start seeing some vigilante action? Do we even want to?
FINAL VERDICT: Cameron Britton flanking the beginning and end only showed the chaos in-between would always end with him, and rightly so.
Considering it was really Holden Ford’s story, having Ed Kemper act as book-ends for the first and last episodes was fitting. Holden’s twisted, warped journey from naive hopeful optimism to depraved, vulgar, isolation was an alarming switch over just ten episodes. Yet none of Holden’s story felt rushed, because Holden always possessed such traits. But why do we care?
Because we want Cameron Britton’s Kemper to trap Holden Ford’s traits from both sides. He snared Holden from the beginning and at the end, he darn well gives the poor guy a panic attack. But there’s no denying it. Kemper has Holden dangerously wrapped around his finger. And the longer Holden believes he’s still in control, or holds something over Kemper–like Kempler cares, because he’s a psychopath–then the more danger he’ll be in. Britton’s story won’t be about redemption, and we’re thankful for it. He’s far too brilliant as a villain–a smartly-played, unsuspecting, true piece of evil. Maybe he’ll work with Holden. Or he’ll just tell him to sod off.
Whatever happens: Kemper will remain as unapologetically deranged as he always was, and always will be. It’s strange to say this, but we need more of Britton’s craziness on television. In a sickly satisfying way, it’s a treat; it’s quality; it scares the beejesus out of everyone, and we’ve never seen an audience love that sensation so unanimously.
Kudos, Mr. Cameron Britton. Kudos on being so incorrigibly evil.
MINDHUNTER is available to stream now on NETFLIX.
Good do guys finish last, apparently.
The lesson is, ladies and gentlemen: do not judge a book by its cover. If anything, Ed Kemper was a socially awkward but pleasant, conversational oddball. Don’t be paranoid around every neighbuur, okay? Just the ones who look like they’ll decapitate their betrothed and scoff them down for stew at dinner time…