Alex Reviews "Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, and Vile"
Theodore Robert Bundy is considered by many to be the most prolific serial killer in American history. There was (and in some cases is) a fascination with him because he did not appear as a monster that typical citizens would anticipate could be someone with that capacity to take a life: attractive, charming, personable, highly intelligent. At the same time, he was believed to be a complete sociopath with thirty known victims over seven states in a period of less than four years and whom may have been far more active than this number suggests. Interestingly, this provides the backdrop to “Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, and Vile”.
Told from the point of view of Bundy’s longtime girlfriend, Elizabeth Kloepfer (played by Lily Collins), who believed that Ted Bundy was innocent for many years and borrowing its structure from her book, written under the pseudonym Liz Kendall, “The Phantom Prince: My Life with Ted Bundy”, do not expect this to be a slasher picture. However, Joe Berlinger (who also directed a documentary on Bundy, which is also featured on Netflix) has directed a masterpiece in character study with Zac Efron (The Greatest Showman) as the picture’s focal point. A majority of the story takes place after his incarceration and through his trial and delivery of sentence where the iconic quote that became the title occurred.
The realism of the movie is heightened to a level I have previously unseen in a narrative film to the point where I could feel not only myself but also others in the audience gripping their armrests with uncertainty, despite knowing the outcome. Berlinger further blurs the line between his two projects by using footage of the real Bundy highlighted during the credits.
Efron is absolutely perfect in the role to the point that it will be a little while before I can see him in a project and not have him as this truly horrifying character. Multiple scenes of him shifting gears from sweetheart to menacing at a moment’s notice never allows for a comfort level while at times drawing me in to almost pulling for him to prove his non-existent innocence. As great as he has been in other things I have seen, this may be the best work of his career.
Collins (The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones) may be the only part of this movie that holds me back from putting this picture firmly in place as one of this year’s best. While she never felt out of place, she also seemed aloof from the role of Liz Kendall in most scenes. Her final scene of the picture opposite Efron in prison, however, is so powerful that it makes up for much of the other points where her performance felt blasé and is so effective that even knowing where it was going, it did nothing to prepare me for the gut reaction of this particular moment. It could also be seen that John Malkovich (Being John Malkovich) also feels subdued in his role as Judge Edward Cowart, but this is actually a spot on portrayal (minus the southern accent) of the man who would oversee the circus that was the first televised murder trial and ultimately found Ted Bundy guilty.
Not only did I get to see this film in a theater, there was also a Q&A session with Berlinger afterwards, where he touched on the importance of avoiding violence in the movie and focusing on the trial in Florida. It was the importance of creating this uncertainty within the audience which he intended to make the aforementioned final scene between Collins and Efron as emotional and visceral as possible.
“Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, and Vile” is a fantastic film deserving attention for the amazing experience that it is. Truly, it should be watched and then followed up with its documentary counterpart in “Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes”. At minimum, this should be watched for Zac Efron’s disappearance into his darkest character and the acting debut of James Hetfield in a minor, but important role.