Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile is a biographical crime drama about notorious serial killer, Ted Bundy, from the perspective of his longtime girlfriend. Directed by Joe Berlinger, who brought Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes to screen, you have to think Berlinger is perfectly positioned to take a run at this ambitious and intentionally rose-tinted retelling.
The story picks up in 1970s America, where the seemingly devoted boyfriend and charming Theodore Bundy discovers he bears a likeness to a man who has been linked to a number of abductions and murders across the country. Walking the precarious line between blind naivete and glorification, Berlinger unpacks Bundy’s sociopathic and psychopathic behaviour, shielding the monster in a shroud of self-proclaimed mistaken identity. Constantly pleading innocent, denying every charge and lawyering his way out of situations, his unconventional court case is one of the first to be televised.
Detailing Bundy’s celebrity style affair with the media and expounding on some of his murders with court room distance, Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile is surprisingly tame in terms of graphic violence with the focus on the courtroom antics and evidence rather than recreating murders. Covering the historical events with a biased, arguably glorified slant makes for an entertaining, devious and thought-provoking tension.
“Remember to scream when you cut the cake.”
Starring the handsome and likable Zac Efron, the filmmakers charge headlong into this outlook relying on his devilishly charming performance to capture the duality. The crime drama is fascinating in a morbidly curious way, allowing Zac Efron to immerse himself in the quietly malevolent lead role, able to present a much more complex take on this one-sided representation. Convicted of many crimes across the States, which some believe are only the tip of the bloody iceberg, Bundy was a sociopath whose likable demeanour and good looks made it difficult for people to believe he was capable of kidnapping and murder. Lily Collins supports Efron in a similar capacity to Shelley Long in The Shining.
This night and day film has similarities with the crime drama, The Iceman, based on the life of hitman, Richard Kuklinski. Both based on true stories of killers leading a double life, they operate with a similar underlying tension as secrets threaten to capsize their “normal” lives. The real wicked, evil and vile undercurrent is established through Bundy’s ability to twist the truth. Bundy is probably the most famous serial killer in American history, who while extensively documented may simply be a familiar name to many nowadays – not to be confused with Al from Married with Children.
While the bold reframing of Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile has a variety of issues, offering a much rosier retrospective, it makes for an interesting commentary on the notion of love is blind, the uglier side of celebrity and America’s twisted fascination with serial killers. The throwback to the ’70s is authentic enough to transport you and the dramatisation is captivating enough to entertain if you haven’t been overexposed to Bundy’s true crime story already. See it for Efron’s heady performance, its devil’s advocate point-of-view and see-sawing balancing act.
The bottom line: Entertaining