It’s a strange coincidence that in one year, two separate projects have revitalised the legend of famed serial killer Ted Bundy. The man who kidnapped and raped countless young women through the 1970s is still one of the more fascinating cases of killers in human history. After Netflix released the in-depth documentary series on Ted Bundy, which had hours of audio of Ted recapping his life, the more theatrical approach to the story, Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile hit our screens in May 2019. If the Netflix series was rife with information, Extremely Wicked is severely lacking in it.
The film takes a different approach to the documentary series by telling the story through the complex and passionate relationship between Ted and his girlfriend Elizabeth Kloepfer. Zac Efron takes on the challenge of portraying Ted Bundy while Lily Collins plays Liz.
We start by witnessing the two characters meeting in a bar. Liz, who is a single mother, is encouraged by her friends to enjoy herself and take a chance, and before we know it, she’s kindly escorted home by Ted. The two do not have sex. Although Ted does sleep by her side, with her daughter, Molly in the cot. When Liz wakes up, she is all alone on the bed, and her daughter is nowhere in sight. She then rushes to the kitchen, only to find Ted preparing breakfast for Liz and her daughter. It’s a brief, yet intelligently incorporated moment of fear that quickly reminds the audience that this is a man capable of dangerous things, even though he is handsome and charming.
Then while watching clips of the couple playing with Molly, the audio of news reporters discussing different murders is played over the clips. The grainy 70s style footage, combined with the two contrasting tones of a happy family playing and a deeply disturbing story of a murder captures the setting and duality of Ted Bundy’s tale. It is an opening that sucks you into the narrative.
One of the strengths of Extremely Wicked is that it allows you to watch events that have only previously been discussed, not seen. Such as the first time Ted is chased by a police car, and he believes he can charm his way out of being punished. His intimate meetings with Carole Ann Boone, a woman who blindly supports Ted during his murder trial. At times, it is simply fascinating to watch how Ted interacted with Liz while committing such heinous crimes days or moments earlier.
Ultimately, Zac Efron proves to be the strongest and most captivating part of this film. Although his portrayal of Ted Bundy is not without its faults, there are plenty of positives. He looks the part, especially during Ted’s early days with Liz, and his initial trials in court. Efron not only resembles the real-life Ted but seems to be a carbon copy of the man. He also brilliantly captures the two sides of Ted, beautifully balancing them by seamlessly transitioning from the charming, confident young man to the psychotic killer.
Unfortunately, despite Efron delivering on the acting side of things, the direction and writing seem to be too occupied with maintaining his star persona. As a result of this, Efron is not allowed to fully embody the true qualities of this killer. The film also fails to show audiences just how horrific Ted’s crimes are because, besides one moment, in the end, we never see these crimes. The lack of visuals and details regarding the crimes makes Ted a little more likable, which is not how this character should come across. It all reeks of the creative team falling victim to catering to Efron’s fan base instead of being truthful to the story.
Also, even though there are moments where Efron captures certain looks to a tee, they are just that, moments. It’s not consistent. He looks far too perfect in every part of Extremely Wicked. Even when Ted escapes prison and hides in the mountains for six days, upon returning, Efron still looks like a clean-cut Hollywood superstar. In addition to this, Extremely Wicked changes the story at times. For those that have seen the Netflix series, these small changes will hinder their enjoyment of director Joe Berlinger’s tale of Ted Bundy.
In the end, much like countless cinematic projects have failed to live up to books of the same name, Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile fails to match the edginess and depth of the documentary that was released a few months earlier. The title of this Zac Efron-starrer is a clever way of incorporating the words uttered by the judge who sentenced Ted Bundy to the death penalty. However, this is not wicked, evil, or vile enough for a story filled with such horrific events.
Dir: Joe Berlinger
Scr: Michael Werwie
Cinematography: Brandon Trost
Cast: Zac Efron, Lily Collins, Kaya Scodelario, Haley Joel Osment, Jim Parsons, John Malkovich
Runtime: 110 minutes.
Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile will be available on DVD on September 9th.