“You’re in love with a weirdo. That makes you a weirdo by association.”- Ted Bundy(Efron) to Liz in a more light-hearted context.
Extremely Wicked, Shocking Evil and Vile is the latest movie/documentary to tell the story of real-life serial Killer Ted Bundy, played here by former teen heart-throb Zac Efron. This incarnation draws inspiration from the memoir of Bundy’s once girlfriend, Elizabeth Kendall, played by Lilly Collins.
The movie is quite good, buoyed by strong performances but does not completely avoid questionable decisions of focal points.
The movie focuses on the portion of Bundy’s life after his first arrest in connection a failed kidnapping, with the main event of the plot being his Florida murder trial where he notably dismissed his lawyers, deciding to present his own defense. The movie’s decision to not show Ted in the act of committing any of his despicable murders until the very end, which both shields it from allegations of exploitation and frames the movie like it is the story of wrongly accused man trying to prove his innocence. The attempted kidnapping trial stood out as a moment where I would have completely understood an acquittal. In this light, the audience are in the shoes of his friends and loved ones that refuse to accept his guilt and get a good sense of his charming, manipulative nature.
This understanding is complemented by Zac Efron’s knockout performance, both in capturing the look and mannerisms of Bundy and his soul-less, arrogant charmer nature. The rest of the cast does a fine job with the material they’re given, in particular Lilly Collins selling Liz’s depression as Ted’s criminal trials commence and her final confrontation with Ted that closes the movie. I particularly liked John Malkovich as the weary trial judge that has to contend with Bundy’s antics as he makes a circus of the trial.
As evidenced so far, the movie makes a potential mis-step in deciding to focus largely on Bundy, showing less of Elizabeth as it progresses outside of the occasional cutaway. I had not seen any other movies or documentaries detailing Ted Bundy’s life before this one but I imagine some of them have covered this period of his career and there is definitely plenty of footage of it already available. Centering the movie more around Elizabeth’s experiences and reaction to the trial would have given the movie more of a unique identity and even further reduce any accusations of romanticizing or glorifying Bundy. Likely due to director Joe Berlinger’s career mostly including documentaries, the movie sticks very hard to observable facts and does not attempt to offer insight into what may have formed Bundy into the person he became.
As said, the movie is a definite recommend, especially for those with little familiarity with its subject. Given that it’s on Netflix, it would be little trouble for those interested to see it.