REVIEW: Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile (2019)
Ted Bundy has been making the rounds in the zeitgeist for longer than we’d like to admit. The serial killer, who was convicted for the murders and disappearances of over 30 women, has been regarded as one of America’s most notorious perpetrators. After a string of murders reaching from Washington to Florida to Utah, Bundy was subsequently tried and sentenced to death by electric chair January 24, 1989. This day even rang the moniker “Tuesday is Fryday,” as the public gathered in celebration of Bundy’s demise. Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile, Joe Berlinger’s new film, sees Zac Efron embody the nefarious killer. Through the perspective of Bundy’s longtime girlfriend Liz Kloepfer (Lily Collins), the film tells the story from Bundy’s earliest kidnappings to his last few courtroom extravaganzas. Burdened by its narrative structure, although having good performances, there’s much to desire from Berlinger’s new film.
Now 30 years after Bundy’s death, Berlinger uncovers more on one of America’s first popular serial killers. His recent docuseries, Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes, hit Netflix and became one of the platforms most watched specials. The four-episode documentary chronicled Bundy’s life, his victims across state borders and the hunt leading to a conviction. A viewer would like to think the new film complements the series, but the drama leaves too much out for what is supposed to be a tribute to Kloepfer’s point of view. The film opens to Liz and a jailed Ted as they talk across the glass. “Remember the night we met?” Liz asks, now nearly repulsed to see him. The film then takes us back to their spicy first encounter in a college dive bar. Right then, Ted and Liz hit it off and began dating. Berlinger’s film then travels down a slippery slope from Ted’s charming, conniving personality to Liz as she continues to discover the terrifying truths about a man she thought she knew.
Efron, although often plagued by the beefcake bro persona, is exceptionally good here as the infamous killer. Bundy’s dark fantasies are veiled under the charm and charisma, both of which Efron the actor hones well. Because it seemed difficult to imagine Efron taking up the role, the end product is actually a believable turn. Bundy, for as horrid as his acts were, was objectively just the handsome regular joe. No one batted an eye at second-guessing such an astute, well educated, law student could actually be slaughtering for a sick hobby. This in turn gave him the smooth pass to commit heinous crimes. Efron welcomes a dark potrayal, one that pounds the concept home that Bundy wasn’t a monster, but a human being; and that’s as scary as it can get. The supporting cast standouts include Jim Parsons as the Florida prosecutor and the always sharp John Malkovich as Judge Edward D. Cowart. Some of the film’s more entertaining moments happen on the courtroom floor, shared by the three.
Collins is also a magnificent casting choice, but her performance gets severely sidelined as much as her character does. Yes, the film is meant to be following the agony and denial Liz underwent, but it doesn’t frame it as well as it brags. This problem overflows as Liz becomes increasingly less dimensional with every Bundy reveal. The film also suffers as it fails to utilize its most gripping details, that of Bundy’s victims. This shouldn’t invite horrid recounts of the murders, but rather an interesting peek at who the victims were. It would’ve gone a long way in developing Ted as the abominable man he really was (not to be overshadowed by Efron’s good looks).
For all the ghastly intrigue that attracts viewers, Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile is a story with cracks in its foundation. It’s easy to get caught up in all the psychological commotion that comes with studying serial killers. Sometimes people forget how close to home these evils can live and every once in a while, a reality check is fine. It’s clear this is what Berlinger partly intends with the film. But with the docuseries under his belt, he’s strayed away from the things that made the actual truth compelling. If only the film had fictionally supported how good those details really were.
Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile is now streaming on Sky Cinema in the UK and on Netflix in the US.
Directed by: Joe Berlinger
Cast: Zac Efron, Lily Collins, Haley Joel Osment, Jim Parsons, John Malkovich, Angela Sarafyan