Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, and Vile Review: An impressive take on Bundy and a performance from Efron that can’t be missed
While the vicious and cruel acts of serial killer Ted Bundy have been adapted to film and TV countless times, Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, and Vile presents a fresh take on the Ted Bundy story that I couldn’t help but kind of respect.
Instead of just focusing on the direct killings of Bundy, played by Zac Efron, the film delves into Bundy’s relationship with his longtime girlfriend Liz Kendall, played by Lily Collins. The film actually plays out more like a court room drama rather than a thriller about a serial killer and it focuses on the impact Bundy’s charming personality had on Liz, news coverage of serial killers, and how we view serial killers in general. There actually isn’t much shown about his acts of violence at all and it’s something that I couldn’t help but respect about director Joe Berlinger and writer Michael Werwie’s take on Bundy.
Films on serial killers can often been seen as problematic because they are seen to glorify or use their cruel acts to create a more entertaining story. Films like Natural Born Killers are often given this distinction, but this film doesn’t fall into that trap and instead presents are story that dually focused on showing the impact of Bundy and how he affected Liz’s life. I was so impressed by this choice as focusing more on shots of Efron’s Bundy committing terrible killings would’ve been unnecessary as the film already does a great job making Bundy’s acts feel as bone-chilling and gross as they are without having to show anything.
There’s a lot of great archived news footage throughout the film that rounds out the story very well and the court room scenes have a good amount of detail put into them to talk about what Bundy has done. There’s a great scene where a Florida prosecutor, played by Jim Parsons, describes what Bundy did to two sorority girls and Parson’s delivery had me cringing at how real it felt. We’re really only shown how Bundy kills someone at the end, but because of how the film builds up towards this moment, it feels earned and leaves a stronger impression. Seeing Bundy like this not only introduces viewers to a different side of his monstrous behavior, but it also works in favor of Efron’s performance.
Efron delivers a Ted Bundy performance like no other and captures both the look and mannerisms that made Bundy so eye-catching. There’s always this sense of confidence that Bundy had that always made people feel like he might have been innocent and Efron puts this into his performance every second he is on-screen. Even though we already know Bundy committed all of these crimes, making the film’s framing to make it seem like he may not have a little pointless, this retrospective actually works to the credibility of the film’s story and Efron’s performance. Bundy never admitted he killed anyone until his end and was always cracking jokes, going against his own lawyers, and acting determined that he was innocent. The film captures all of this through Efron’s truly astounding performance and he utilizes each scene he’s in to show the deep impact he had as well as the dominating force he was on those around him.
The film really is more of a cautionary tale than anything else and accurately displays the impact of Bundy’s killings had on the views of serial killers. Once the story on Bundy’s acts broke, serial killers were no longer just the anti-social, crazy people, but could be simply your next-door neighbor or your significant other or anybody. This is what made people originally question if Bundy could’ve really done these things and the film does a great job establishing this sense of doubt that people had as well as the sense of shock that came when they found out the truth. There’s an interesting sequence where the film recognizes that many women came to his trials in order to support him because of his good looks and charm. Scenes like this really emphasize the kind of doubt that surrounded Bundy because he was seen as so “normal” and it’s only emphasized even more through Collin’s Liz.
When the film doesn’t have its eyes on Bundy, viewers get to see how Liz is affected by Bundy’s case and the film does an interesting job presenting the survivor’s guilt that Liz faced for years. Collins does a solid job of showing Liz’s growing frustrations about whether Bundy actually did anything or not and how it mentally affects her. Surely there’s a sense of fear that she has that she could’ve easily been one of the girls on Bundy’s long list of victims as well as that she could’ve stopped him and saved those girl’s lives. The film really emphasizes the sense of hope that the two shared for one another with Bundy ingraining the thought of them never leaving one another and his references and comparisons to Papillon, a novel about a wrongly convicted man trying to escape.
The film is actually based on the novel written by Liz Kendall, titled The Phantom Prince: My Life with Ted Bundy, and there’s definitely moments where the film shifts its perspective towards Liz. It’s definitely a side of the Bundy story that hasn’t been shared before and it adds a unique idea and a new layer to how Bundy captured the attention of those around him. I will say that the film never really answers the burning question of why Liz was so special to him. There’re definitely assumptions viewers can have about his narcissism or her being a mother being connected to what made Liz so special to him. However, adding a real reason would’ve strengthen their connection and added another layer to why he has such a stranglehold over Liz.
The film also has an accurate sense of style to it that make feel like you’re really back in that time. The beige and brown color palette adds a grainer feel to the cinematography that makes the film have an older look to it and the costume design feels flashy but is never too overdone. The only thing I would maybe take away is some of the songs that are thrown into certain scenes because they can feel a little distracting. Sometimes, especially in scenes with Bundy and Liz, there’s a song used to try to enhance the scene, but instead it just becomes a distraction that’s unneeded.
Overall, Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, and Vile gives a unique take on its subject who absolutely lives up to the film’s title. The film definitely captures a unique side to the Bundy story with some solid direction from Berlinger and a performance from Efron that is easily the best of his career, thus far. I’d even say that Efron is definitely the one to keep in mind when awards season comes around and, in my opinion, it will take one hell of a performance to out-class all the talent he brings here.