The new Ted Bundy film "Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile" is not quite as captivating as its subject, but it's a compelling glimpse into the mind of madness.
Ted Bundy is one of the most notorious serial killers in American history. He was put on the electric chair in 1989 for the heinous murders, kidnappings and assaults he had committed throughout the 1970s, confessing to over 30 murders in the days leading up to his execution. But throughout his highly publicized trials and throughout most of his adult life, he maintained his innocence. Flocks of people who watched his trials play out on live TV wanted to believe that he was, in fact, innocent, as part of his appeal was that he was by-and-by, a very charming man.
In January, Netflix had released a docu-series about Bundy, called "Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes," in which hours of interviews and archival footage were parsed through, giving us a closer look into Bundy's psychology - in his own words - than we might have ever wanted to experience. Interestingly, that docu-series was directed by the same guy (Joe Berlinger) who directs this movie. And while "Extremely Wicked" doesn't take as deep a dive into his psyche as that series did, this dramatization does act as a good introductory to those that may not have seen that series, or who simply might not know all that much about Ted Bundy.
Zac Efron portrays the killer, and he gives his best performance to date. The movie is focused most on his strange relationship with Ted and his girlfriend, Liz (Lily Collins), who met Ted prior to him committing any evil deeds. The movie acts as a greatest hits of all of the known eventful occurrences in Bundy's life once he was initially brought in on kidnapping charges; for example, it details how he managed to escape from authorities not once, but twice, and how he went on to represent himself during most of his murder trial in Florida, where he was eventually found guilty of killing two sorority girls on the campus of Florida State University in 1978. In fact, the title, "Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile" are the exact words used by his trial judge, Edward Cowart (John Malkovich) during his sentencing.
"Extremely Wicked" may work best for those that are not all too familiar with the details of Ted Bundy's case...had the names been changed and this presented as anything other than a famous serial killer's murder trial, the viewer might even spend a large portion of the movie believing that Bundy was a wrongly accused man. In that vein, it might be possible for some to think that the movie romanticizes or sympathizes with Bundy, but I don't believe that to be true. If anything, it shows how scary it is that killers do not have to come from the shadows with big teeth and evil eyes...they come in all shapes and sizes, and they are indeed walking among us.
The film becomes a court-room drama in its latter half, but I found the performance by Zac Efron to be engaging and spot-on, and the story to be mesmerizing. This guy was a brutal murderer, and even after being convicted it looked like he had even imprinted his judge, who called him a fine young man, and who mentioned he would have made a good lawyer. I also found the story of Liz, and later, Bundy's eventual wife, Carole Anne Boothe (Kaya Scodelario), to be interesting...a contrasting tale of two women, both affected by Bundy, and what they choose to see.
"Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile" is quite a mouthful to say, and surely there have been other films and documentaries that have had more to say about Ted Bundy, but this one might most effectively portray his killer charisma.
Genre: Biography, Crime, Drama.
Run Time: 1 hour, 47 minutes.
Based on the book by Elizabeth Kendall, "The Phantom Prince: My Life with Ted Bundy."
Starring: Zac Efron, Lilly Collins, John Malkovich, Angela Sarafyan, Kaya Scodelario, Haley Joel Osment, Jim Parsons.
Directed by Joe Berlinger (countless documentaries, also "Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2").
This movie is available on NETFLIX starting Friday, May 3rd, 2019.
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