“Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile” was directed by Joe Berlinger and stars Zac Efron, Lily Collins, Kaya Scodelario and John Malkovich. The film is based on the true story of Ted Bundy, a mass serial killer that gained a public image for his charisma and very public trial for his crimes.
This film follows more of Bundy’s relationship with Liz Kendall, with her perspective coming into much of the storyline. The movie debuted on Netflix on March 3.
I have been cautiously optimistic of this movie since originally hearing Efron was named to play one of the most iconic serial killers in history. My hopes were unfazed by a trailer that came with controversy, because I held out hope that the film would be able to play the fine line between showing Bundy’s charm and persuasion, while still not glorifying him as a human being.
Most of the truly great things that this movie has to offer comes with one name: Efron. Much to my delight, Efron more than proved his capabilities to offer up a strong dramatic turn, playing Bundy incredibly well. Charm has been a staple of Efron’s roles in movies like “Neighbors” and even the “High School Musical” trilogy, and he brings that in strides to this role here.
Bundy was known for his ability to get people to believe him, whether it be his victims or those watching his trial on TV. Efron makes me buy into that, often showing that confidence in his words that can make me buy that he is this manipulative trash can of a human being behind the scenes.
While I think the clear star of the movie is its lead, I can appreciate the way Berlinger went around this tricky true story. It is far from perfect, but Berlinger’s decision to keep the audience somewhat guessing on Bundy’s crimes until the very end allowed me to watch from the supposed lens of those who watched the case live, and I think that was a smart move in some ways.
This style allowed for Bundy’s dynamic with the women closer in his life to stand out, and it allowed for a more developed character throughout.
I found most of the supporting cast to be, at the very least, serviceable. Collins gave a strong performance as Bundy’s girlfriend, but of those not named Efron, it was Malkovich as Judge Edward D. Cowart who made an impact. Bundy and Cowart’s dynamic in the courtroom was a highlight in the film, and I thought Malkovich nailed the iconic lines of the judge with precision.
I will still defend Berlinger’s approach in many facets, but that does not mean it came without shortcomings. The most clear cut of those is that Bundy comes off as much more of a sane human being than he should for almost the entirety of the film. I don’t mind keeping some questions unanswered for awhile, it makes for more tension in decisions made later, but to make such a well known psychopath seem like anything but that is shaky ground to be standing on.
Because of this approach, it gave much more screen time to Liz, and while Collins’ performance isn’t at fault, many of her scenes feel like wasted time. I think her character is an important one, but Bundy’s life and times in and out of jail should have been the total focal point, with her only coming in on the side.
Ted Bundy is many awful, awful things, but he is also an incredibly interesting figure. In a movie like “Extremely Wicked,” this needs to be what the film works around. Instead, it is more about his dynamic with a girlfriend and if he is actually guilty, a decision that I think ended up not showing off the true horrors Bundy caused as much as necessary.
In the end, “Extremely Wicked,” is a pretty good watch, sometimes made great by Efron’s career-best performance. Berlinger’s approach has its strengths and weaknesses, but I think even with making the lens somewhat of an unknown of the history, more needed to be done to focus on Bundy’s atrocities to humanity.
As it stands, there are things to appreciate in this film, but Efron’s turn could have been used to even more of a strength if it were put in a movie that relied upon it more than “Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile” ultimately is.