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New Release Review - EXTREMELY WICKED, SHOCKINGLY EVIL, AND VILE

Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, And Vile review
The story of serial killer Ted Bundy.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Joe Berlinger

Starring: Zac Efron, Lily Collins, Kaya Scodelario, John Malkovich, Angela Sarafyan, Jim Parsons

Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, And Vile poster


Like so many mediocre biopics, director Joe Berlinger's Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, And Vile plays like a very expensive commercial for a more incisive documentary on its subject. In this case, Berlinger has his own documentary to offer those who wish to take a deeper dive into the story of serial killer Ted Bundy. When said documentary, Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes, premiered on Netflix earlier this year, a new generation of women fell under the dubious spell of the charismatic and handsome killer, so much so that the streaming service had to issue a statement reminding viewers of Bundy's crimes. Yet, still a search of Bundy's name on social media will return posts from women describing in explicit detail what they'd like the mass murderer to do to them.

Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, And Vile review


Prior to Bundy, the classic image of a killer was of some bucktoothed yokel with a double-barrelled surname making furniture out of his victims. An attractive, urbane law student, Bundy caught the attention of the media, leading to him defending himself during America's first ever nationally televised court trial. During the trial, women would tune in just to swoon over Bundy as he wisecracked his way through his show trial and embedded his name in American pop culture. It could be argued that the media's obsession with Bundy and the spotlight afforded him has inspired a legion of fame-hungry killers in the decades since.

How then do you portray Bundy on screen without propagating his mystique? To pretend he didn't possess a charismatic nature would be disingenuous, as would casting a more traditionally sinister looking actor than pretty boy du jour Zac Efron. The obvious answer would seem to be to ensure you leave no doubt in the viewer's mind as to how, well, extremely wicked, shockingly evil and vile Bundy really was. But that's not what Berlinger does here.

Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, And Vile review


Berlinger's film is credited as an adaptation of 'The Phantom Prince: My Life with Ted Bundy', Bundy's long-time girlfriend Elizabeth Kloepfer's account of her relationship with the killer. Berlinger wants us to understand why a woman would remain loyal to someone accused of so many horrific crimes, when their guilt seems as cut and dry as it was in Bundy's case. However, as played by Lily Collins, Kloepfer is very much a supporting character here, reduced to little more than a slight expansion of the cinematic trope of the crying girlfriend on the other end of a phone call. The movie never really gets inside Kloepfer's psyche and denies us so much as a glimpse into the workaday life of the girlfriend of America's most infamous serial killer and how she is viewed by her local community.

Applying a documentarian's objectivity to this narrative account of Bundy's story, Berlinger refuses to portray Bundy in the act of committing his heinous crimes. In its ambiguity regarding his guilt, the movie seems to be aimed at an audience which is completely unfamiliar with the name of Ted Bundy. As portrayed by Efron, Bundy is certainly the most charming character we're introduced to here. With the movie pitting him against an American justice system that we now view with a lot more distrust than those of Bundy's generation did, you may have to remind yourself that this is a man who killed at least 30 women, and not someone worthy of your empathy. Bundy portrays himself as a victim, comparing his plight to that of the protagonist in '70s bestseller 'Papillon'. While only Bundy can claim to know the truth of his crimes, the evidence suggests his conviction was certainly no miscarriage of justice, making Berlinger's decision to afford Bundy the benefit of the doubt for so much of the narrative a decidedly odd one.

Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, And Vile review


The final third of the film is essentially a condensed recreation of the televised trial, with Berlinger maintaining the original dialogue. As both Bundy and the presiding judge (played here by a dry as ever John Malkovich) were remarkably quick-witted, this is a wise decision, and it certainly makes for entertaining drama. But when we have such access to the real-life footage, is there any point to all of this? Does Extremely Wicked... serve to further condemn an awful human being or simply add to his legend? The social media reaction to Efron's performance will no doubt provide is with an answer, and I suspect it won't be the one we'd like.

Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, And Vile is in UK/ROI cinemas and on Sky Cinema May 3rd.


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