‘Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, and Vile’ Review — A Bland and Bloodless Ted Bundy Biopic

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Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, and Vile Review

People are fascinated with serial killers. The mystery of what drives someone to abandon all semblances of their humanity and engage in horrific acts of violence is inherently compelling because it exists outside the realm of reason. One serial killer who has fascinated people decades after his execution is Ted Bundy, the cold-blooded serial killer who confessed to 30 murders on death row. A recent Netflix documentary revived interest in the ruthless monster and Netflix noted that interest and picked up Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, and Vile, a drama from director Joe Berlinger and based upon the book The Phantom Prince: My Life with Ted Bundy by Elizabeth Kendall, his longtime girlfriend. Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, and Vile is a film that doesn’t quite live up to its title as it’s rather short on the graphic violence one would associate with Bundy’s depraved acts. It is a competently constructed, well-acted film but one that fails connect on an emotional or psychological level.

The film opens with Liz Kendall (Lily Collins) and her close friend Joanna (Angela Sarafyan) out at a Seattle bar when a handsome young man catches the eye of Liz. In a matter of moments Liz believes that she has met Mr. Right. He’s a law student named Ted Bundy (Zac Efron). Liz gets swept up in a whirlwind romance, inviting him into her home with her young daughter Molly. It’s early on that it becomes apparent that director Joe Berlinger and screenwriter Michael Werwie aren’t interested in the gruesome and salacious crimes of Bundy, but the illusion of domesticity that projected to those around him and especially Liz.

It’s understandable why the filmmakers would want to avoid the more gruesome aspects of Bundy’s crimes and focus on the web of lies that he surrounded himself. There’s a thin line between exploration and exploitation. However, Extremely Wicked wants to have it both ways. It wants to posit itself as a telling of Liz’s story but also wants the sensationalist aspects of Bundy to draw viewers in. Once Bundy has been apprehended, the film quickly loses focus on Liz’s story and is much more invested in Bundy’s escapes and his various trials. Bundy’s ghastly deeds are rarely shown and the focus on Liz fades as it observes her at a distance as she’s dealing with guilt and descending into alcoholism. The focus on Bundy and the lack of violence leads to a sanitized view of an infamous murderer, one that’s willing to embellish Bundy’s reputation as a strikingly handsome sociopath.

Extremely Wicked is a disappointing film because it’s so competently made but so ineffective. Efron gives a very strong performance as the serial killer, using his matinee idol good looks to obscure the pure evil bubbling beneath the surface. Lily Collins is equally strong, bringing the layers to Liz’s conflicting emotions. There’s also strong work from the supporting cast, headlined by John Malkovich as the Florida judge overseeing Bundy’s trial, Jim Parsons as the prosecutor, and Brian Geraghty as the public defender whom Bundy arrogantly dismisses in order to handle his own defense. But the problem is that the trial is one of the least interesting aspects of this story, and it’s hard to say that this is Liz’s story when she’s thousands of miles away watching the events on TV with a cigarette and a glass of vodka.

At the conclusion of Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, and Vile, Liz confronts her former lover and current death row inmate. She’s there to look evil in the eye, to exorcise the guilt that she’s carried. Efron and Collins give it their all in this climatic scene but, like much of the film, it just carries no weight. Therein lies the perils of portraying an unremorseful sociopath – there’s not much beneath the surface except ice cold evil. Extremely Wicked is a film that’s all about the surface, and once you get beyond Efron’s dead-eyed stare there’s just nothing else there.

Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, and Vile
  • Overall Score
2.5

Summary

A film about the infamous serial killer Ted Bundy, Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, and Vile tries to tell the horrific story from a different perspective but it’s ineffective as there’s little emotional or psychological depth in a film that wastes two solid performances from Zac Efron and Lily Collins.

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