REVIEW: “Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile”

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No movie title could better describe Theadore Robert Bundy, a brutal American serial killer and rapist whose vicious crimes spanned seven states throughout the 1970’s. His victims of choice, young females who were drawn to his charisma and good looks. He would eventually confess to thirty murders but the true number could be even higher. The title is a quote from Judge Edward Cowart (portrayed here by John Malkovich) who stated it while sentencing Bundy to death.

Director Joe Berlinger and screenwriter Michael Werwie base their film on The Phantom Prince: My Life with Ted Bundy, the memoir of Bundy’s former girlfriend and fiancé Elizabeth Kendall (played by Lily Collins). It’s set up to be told from Kendall’s perspective and early on the film does a good job of that. But she’s all but lost in the second half, tossed aside as Berlinger’s documentarian roots take over. The finale tries to justify her absence by giving her a ‘moment’, but it’s a little too late.

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Zac Efron as Bundy was an inspired choice and he manages to deliver a career-best turn. He’s both charming and chilling but the effectiveness of the performance may depend on how much you already know about Ted Bundy. Why do I say that? The film doesn’t dig deep into his crimes like you would expect. With the exception of one quick scene at the end, we never experience the violence. Instead the bulk of the story deals with the accusations, arrests, and courtroom drama. If you know nothing about Ted Bundy it would be easy to see the film as slightly sympathetic in its portrayal.

But that perspective changes if you know the true story of Bundy’s vile, deranged, and grotesque madness. That’s when Efron’s performance shines brightest. He exudes the manipulative charms that attracted young women who would soon be his prey. And it’s those same charms that kept a nation fixated on their television newscasts. And knowing the seductive nature of those charms is what makes Efron (like Bundy) so chilling. It’s only later that the film conveys the true depths of his delusion.

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Bundy spent years denying the mounting evidence as a fascinated country watched through an equally obsessed news media. A huge part of the film is Bundy’s constant declarations of his innocence and his quest to win the court of public opinion. He frequently uses his law student savvy to dig himself out of holes with authorities and with Liz. And speaking of Liz, one thing this film does well is showing her as a lost victim of Bundy’s crimes. As news breaks her world is shattered resulting in a descent into alcoholism and depression. It’s a compelling story which is why it’s such a shame when she takes such a noticeable back seat.

This is Joe Berlinger’s second Ted Bundy related project for Netflix this year. The first was the exceptional 4-episode docu-series “Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes”. Do yourself a favor and see it before watching “Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile”. It will give you the important perspective the latter film has a hard time establishing. And when you have that perspective “Extremely Wicked” is a pretty chilling experience. But without it, I can see people being left scratching their heads.

VERDICT – 3 STARS

3-stars

20 thoughts on “REVIEW: “Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile”

    • I worked mainly because I had a pretty good knowledge of Bundy and his crimes going in. You kinda need that because the movie doesn’t really establish much in terms of facts on its own.

  1. Fair review Keith and I’ll definitely heed that advice. Been wanting to check out that miniseries anyway. This always struck me more as a companion piece anyway, with all the reviews I have read noting the lack of explicit detail in the crimes and the perspective the narrative takes.

    • The docu-series is excellent and you should definitely check it out first. I don’t have nightmares but it really got under my skin and I had one night where it kept me up. Definitely a good companion piece situation.

  2. I’m still unsure if I want to see this as I enjoy stories about serial killers as Ted Bundy is an interesting case. Especially in seeing Zac Efron taking on a meaty role and I’m also enjoying what Lily Collins is doing. Plus, I’d like to know if the film played the song “Ted, Just Admit It…” by Jane’s Addiction.

    • Lily Collins is really good in it even though she gets tossed aside in the second half. Efron impressed me. I’m not a big fan of his but he surprised me.

  3. This movie intrigued me because I was quite familiar with Bundy and his depraved crimes . I have always been interested in these type of killers , going back to a project I did on Jack the Ripper in my school days . I know , I’m strange .

    But what fascinates me is not the depraved and vile acts , it is the police work around them and then the people who knew these people and say things like , well he was such a charming man or kind or normal . While all the time masking their real nature underneath .

    So I was hoping it would be a real study in the point of view of Elizabeth Kendall ,played quite well by Lily Collins . I agree the first half was very strong and stayed on that perspective but I agree the last half shifted too much and lost its way .

    The second half is saved , if you will , by Efron and his strong performance of Bundy . He played him very well and it was kinda chilling really . So you nailed it .

    I also agree if your familiar with this case , it will be easier to understand, then if you are completely unaware of Bundy . Sometimes I’m also uneasy in watching these type of movies because because a part of me is bothered by people profiting from such a evil and horrendous act that left so many shattered families . If that makes sense .

    • For sure. It completely makes sense. That’s why I think these movies have a very fine line to walk. You definitely don’t want to profit in a meaningless way from evil and suffering. I think this movie steers clear of that. I just wish it had stuck with its first half perspective. I found that to be the most intriguing angle. Efron though…really good here.

    • I think you’ll appreciate it more since you have a good perspective on Bundy and his crimes. You almost need to really feel the effect of this film.

    • I found the docu-series to be excellent. But for those unfamiliar with Bundy it’s almost essential to getting the full effect that “Extremely Wicked” should have. It’s an effect I didn’t think the movie mustered on its own (if that makes sense).

  4. I was interested in seeing something on the Ted Bunny story from a female perspective, but it sounds like the film loses that thread half way through. I’ve seen the documentary recently so will still give this one a try soon.

    • I’m with you 100%. That is what intrigued me the most. Unfortunately it loses a bit of that perspective in the second half. Still, since you watched to doc this will be an interesting companion piece.

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