TL;DR – While it focuses on the charismatic nature of Bundy and his toxic effects, that is all the film has going for it, and that is not enough when you are exploring a narrative like this.
Score – 2.5 out of 5 stars
Post-Credit Scene – There is a mid-credit sequence
Murder, it is a topic most foul, but it is also one that is ripe for adaptation. We have seen this time and time again, and today we are looking film depicting the life of one of the most heinous serial killers in American history. There is a lot of obsession around him due to his charismatic nature and the way he used the media in his trial, after numerous escapes from custody. Quite often this obsession is deeply problematic, so when you are dealing with a film in which he is the core subject you have to be very careful. Today we are looking at Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile, a film that attempts this but does not quite succeed.
So to set the scene, in the middle of the 1970s and Liz (Lily Collins) is out at a bar with her friend Joanna (Angela Sarafyan). Joanna wanted Liz to have a little fun, instead of being stuck at home with her daughter and there is one man that has not taken his eyes off her. He walks over and introduces himself as Ted Bundy (Zac Efron) and the two instantly hit it off. However, not long after they move in together Ted is arrested in Utah on what he claims are trumped up charges. This begins a long march for justice and the long decline of Liz’s health.
first thing to be clear about with this film is that the performances are superb,
and they are one of the things that helps drag you through. Zac Efron is completely
captivating as Ted, much in keeping with the person he is depicting. Every part
of his performance is created in a way that makes you think that he might not
be guilty, and while that is part of the problem with the film I can’t take it
away from his acting. However, for me, the more captivating role was Lily
Collins as Liz. Here she is playing someone who was completely captivated with
someone, a predator that excelled in getting his victims to lower their
defences. However, she is beset with guilt, guilt about turning him in fighting
the guilt that maybe she did not do enough to save lives. This has a deteriorating
effect on her health that Lily capturers in a haunting way. As well as this,
the supporting cast is all here for this with some good character performances
by Jeffrey Donovan, Jim Parsons, and Haley Joel Osment.
Where the film falls flat to me at least, is in its depiction of Bundy and the way it reveals his involvement. Throughout the film, we are never shown Bundy engaging in any crimes, just circumstantial things, up until the last moments. This does a disservice to the history because it allows Bundy to have all the thematic weight without showing the other side of the equation. Yes there is always the notion of the monster in your head will always be more frightening than what you see and there would be issues with being gratuitous if you went too far. However, without that context, the film spends the vast majority of its runtime positing maybe he did, maybe he didn’t kill them. If you are writing a fictional story this could be a perfectly fine choice, however, when we are dealing with a real person and real crimes that he committed that kind of maybe/maybe not is a poor position to place the narrative.
the production side of things, they did a fantastic job of situating the film in
that time period in general, but also in emulating the trial itself. You see
this in the clothes, the cars, the locations, the music, everything is used to
build the world. As well as this, they splice into the film both news reports
from the time but also faked home video footage. Overall they have done a good
job of matching the created content with the actual footage, with their only
being a couple of times when it looks out of place.
In the end, do we recommend Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile? Well, that is a difficult thing to nail down. One the one hand this is a film that is filled with fantastic performances. But on the other, it is narratively structured in a deeply problematic way that at best is a really questionable decision on the filmmaker’s part.
By Brian MacNamara: You can follow Brian on Twitter Here, when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV, he’ll be talking about International Relations, or the Solar System.
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Credits – All images were created by the cast, crew, and production companies of Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile
Directed by – Joe Berlinger
Screenplay by – Michael Werwie
Based on – The Phantom Prince: My Life with Ted Bundy by Elizabeth Kendall
Music by – Marco Beltrami & Dennis Smith
Cinematography by – Brandon Trost
Edited by – Josh Schaeffer
Production/Distribution Companies – COTA Films, Ninjas Runnin’ Wild Productions, Voltage Pictures & Netflix.
Starring – Zac Efron, Lily Collins, Kaya Scodelario, John Malkovich, Jeffrey Donovan, Angela Sarafyan, Dylan Baker, Brian Geraghty, Jim Parsons, Haley Joel Osment, Grace Victoria Cox, Terry Kinney & James Hetfield
Rating – Australia: MA15+; Canada: na; Germany: na; New Zealand: na; United Kingdom: 15; United States: R