“Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, and Vile” is the newest controversy on the internet’s mind. Ever since the film’s release at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival, people have scrutinized the casting of Zac Efron and questioned whether the film should even exist. So, I took it upon myself to watch and review the film so you have a better idea about whether to watch it. FAIR WARNING: this post will include spoilers, though nothing that isn’t readily available through books and news reports and movies about Ted Bundy.
For all the hatred towards casting choices, the actors were the ones carrying this otherwise mostly lifeless and romanticized film. Every actor fit seamlessly into their role. Zac Efron does a very good job of flipping from charming to intrinsically menacing on a moment’s notice, mostly walking the line as he says charming things but expresses controlling body language the longer you look at him. His eyes often reflect a deeper inner evil bubbling up. Lily Collins also shines as Liz Kendall, doing the absolute best that she can with a surprisingly limited content for being the point of view the film attempts at taking. It really feels like she has been betrayed by her domestic partner and co-parent. Through silent action sequences, we see her fall apart. Still, by the end of the film, she does a great job of representing justice for all Bundy’s victims. She delivers possibly the most powerful scene (which coincidentally was one of the few fictionalized components of the film). In this scene, she demands the answers that every victim of Bundy’s deserves. Collins’s acting turns the attention back to her and the victims. Sadly, Collins’s powerful performance was limited by the confines of the script, directing, the overall film. The other actors recreated real conversations and events so well that it became an issue. Shifting in perspective, the film went from a biopic about Liz Kendall’s experience with Ted Bundy in the first half to a recreated courtroom drama in the second half. This changed the whole tonal atmosphere. Still, lack of consistency was only one of the many issues with this film.
Among the minor discrepancies, more serious issues existed involving missing time, events, and errors in the physicality of Bundy. Firstly, while every dramatization skips over and truncates the timeline, “Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, and Vile” doesn’t account for any of the time between meeting Kendall and being arrested for the first time, his second escape and his crimes in Florida, and his sentencing and his execution almost ten year later. This a large amount of missing time. The film doesn’t ever indicate Carole Ann Boone’s devastation at Bundy admitting to his crimes, nor her and her daughter leaving him. This makes her look like a crazed fanatic who still supports him upon finding out that he is a serial rapist and killer. In truth, Boone believed that Bundy was innocent. She was horrified when he revealed his true self. Furthermore, while Zac Efron looked the part and acted well, there was a huge issue with his physical appearance prior to and after the second escape from prison. This is a huge issue, despite the seemingly superficial nature. Ted Bundy’s change in appearance was crucial to the way he fooled people and remained missing for so long. He lost a plethora of weight in order to escape through a one foot by one foot air vent. He looked so different that people didn’t recognize him. Overlooking this detail weakened the film’s portrayal of Bundy. It decreased his manipulative nature.
The underlying issue with the whole film is that Screenwriter Michael Werwie and director Joe Berlinger seemed either lost in the media haze or truly enamored by Ted Bundy. Neither is a good option. Due to the constant shifting back and forth between Kendall’s love of Bundy and Bundy’s purported love for Kendall (with a lack of controlling, violent, or suspicious behavior from Bundy), 2/3 of the film reflects Ted Bundy as a charming, hopeless romantic rather than a serial killer who uses his charm and attractiveness to manipulate and gaslight others. Anyone without a background knowledge of Ted Bundy could easily question the severity of his crimes. He is the equivalent of Joe in the television show “You.” People are romanticizing Ted Bundy. This is not okay. While blood and gore is not necessary for a successful film about a murderer, the lack of any violent behavior through the majority of the film came across as an attempt at polishing his image. This added nothing to the conversation on Bundy since Bundy himself already attempted at polishing his public image throughout the trial and in every media interview. Berlinger said that he wanted to show Kendall’s experience but the devastating lack of content utilized from her book shows a drastic lack of understanding into Kendall’s psyche which can only be blamed on those responsible for the writing directing, and editing, NOT the actors. It was as if Werwie and Berlinger themselves fell for Bundy’s charms and tricks. This is a little odd considering that Berlinger is also attached to “Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes.” Given the moderate success of his docu-series on Bundy, I chalk this up to a failed attempt at shifting into the genre of biopics.
Overall, “Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, and Vile” fails to depict the depth of Kendall’s experiences or the seriousness of Bundy’s psychology. It didn’t deliver nearly the fresh perspective which was supposed to push conversations in a new direction. There was little value to this film. It was merely a reflection of Bundy’s story which was told better in various other projects and media formats. If potential viewers want Elizabeth Kendall’s actual experience, they should read her autobiography entitled “The Phantom Prince: My Life With Ted Bundy.” The tragedy is that this film had potential to offer a unique examination of this infamous man. Ted Bundy would be happy to know that on the 30th anniversary of his execution, many are still falling for his charming, manipulative persona.