From the director of the Netflix Ted Bundy doco-series; Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile is a film viewed from the perspective of notorious serial killer Ted Bundy (Zac Efron) and his girlfriend Elizabeth (Lilly Collins) – in this film we’re given an intimate look into the complex relationship these two people had, as well as the key moments that led to Bundy’s eventual conviction.
There’s a conflicting feeling I have whenever going into a film that is giving the spotlight to a vile individual – the inner feeling that it is somehow attempting to profit from tragedy is an emotion I don’t believe I’ll ever get rid of – I always push aside that feeling and try my best to peer into these films with an impartial state of mind. I have done so here and will continue to do so in the future; but it is something to consider.
With that said, Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile is a film with out of focus goals; a film that couldn’t decide whether it wanted to be realistic or visceral, explore the truth or give us a fresh interpretation of it all. In its confusion it clumsily shoots and narrowly misses both. With the focus of realism in mind, director Joe Berlinger recreates many of the real life trials word for word in an attempt to immerse audiences in this film. What we end up with in this film is a series of courtroom scenes that felt more monotonous than insightful, despite the valiant attempts of Efron to spice things up with his electric charisma. While I won’t fault the director for trying his hand at being faithful to the real events, this stands as a lesson that sometimes its better to just not do it if it comes at such a high cost.
This film takes a shot at giving us an interesting perspective from Bundy’s girlfriend Elizabeth, with much of the film fringing on a single question: Does Elizabeth believe Bundy? This question circles around itself constantly as one of the films central themes. The story also makes the decision to explore their relationship and attempts to pose the question that perhaps their relationship had mutual authenticity to it. This narrative choice felt somewhat bizarre and anticlimactic given all the other material that could have been written. This film teases an interesting part of the story we never saw, where a woman (Elizabeth) who had known Bundy for so long began to suspect he was not the man she thought he was. We see none of that, none of those tiny moments and suspicions that led to it, only the aftermath. Nor do we really get to see any of Bundy’s manipulative methods within their relationship, it feels incomplete.
There are moments in this film that are truly haunting; moments that tease Bundy’s inner monster without fully showing it in all its depravity. These are the moments where Efron truly shines, where he almost gets to unleash the full scope of his acting finesse, but it unfortunately gets cut short. By all accounts Efron did a great job in this role, was it career defining? No, but it certainly marks a milestone for him in bright future. Lilly Collins does a great job too, there are moments where she’s up and down, but she ultimately provides a powerful performance in the final act alongside Efron in their final moments.
The film excels in its filmmaking components as its attention to lighting is fully realised when conveying emotion in the scenes. As the film chronicles his entire criminal history and judicial processes, it contains some nice shots that have a lot to say and then immediately shifting to a visual styled made for Television.
Arguably the best part of the film is the costuming which resembles the fashion of the 1980’s and the way Ted Bundy represented himself inside the courtroom at the televised trial. During the rapid gloss over Ted Bundy’s story, you get to see a vast range of different costumes that represent the era that allows for the viewer to breathe inside that atmosphere which is supported by fairly convincing sets. The use of classic rock is appropriate given the time period of when this takes place but the execution is jarring and obvious which destroys any sense of tone that has previously been established.
My desire for a film like this was to see a character study of Bundy in an interesting way – something that shows me a peek into his truly horrifying nature. Instead we’re given a borderline breakup flick with courtroom trial recreations. This is where Berlinger falters; he aims for realism in a film that should be striving for depth, tension, and depravity. Do we really want a Ted Bundy movie of him murdering woman the whole time? No. But I’m not particularly aren’t fond of one that spends its whole run-time in a courtroom either, unless it has something really interesting to say. Despite Netflix’s no-ad policy, this film feel like hours of ad breaks with only minutes of content provides actual depth. Those rare moments when Bundy’s mask begins to crack make it worth the watch, only just. Just like the double life that this vicious killer failed to sustain, Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile is a film with two faces in constant conflict with themselves; a formal biopic trying to stick true to reality, and a haunting character study desperately trying to let loose.