The new Ted Bundy biopic is wicked, evil and vile in its excruciating visual accuracy, yet it remains respectful of his victims.
“Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile,” directed by Joe Berlinger — who also directed “Coversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes” — chronicles the courtroom drama surrounding infamous serial killer Ted Bundy’s (Zac Efron) prosecution and its impacts on his girlfriend Liz Kendall (Lily Collins) at the time. The film feels as if it were scraped out of a much longer, more fulfilling story, but its performances are quite powerful.
The cast does an exceptional job at representing real people who were a part of Ted Bundy’s courtroom journey. First and foremost is Zac Efron, whose menacing yet calculated performance as Ted Bundy is quite unsettling. Unlike Efron himself, Bundy certainly isn’t portrayed as a heartthrob. The filmmaker, combined with Efron’s efforts, ensures that he is still displayed as an evil and notorious criminal. Efron is frighteningly similar to Bundy in terms of looks, which only adds an element of realism to the horrifying story.
The real protagonist of the story is Collins’ Liz Kendall. She puts on a fierce yet damaged performance as Ted Bundy’s former girlfriend. She acts in a way that makes the audience long for her happiness, which leads to viewers dreading her suffering. The film makes sure to enforce the female perspective and includes a sufficient character arc for Kendall. This is not just a story about Ted Bundy’s trial — it is also about his girlfriend taking back control of her life.
However, the film suffers from its general plot and organization. The plot moves at an abnormally fast pace. Within the first 20 minutes, Bundy meets Liz for the first time and goes on trial. Viewers who are unfamiliar with Bundy’s horrific history will certainly be confused and jarred by the fast developments.
Despite these shortcomings, “Extremely Wicked” does succeed in capturing some intense and unsettling moments from the Ted Bundy trial. Two particular standouts are Liz’s powerful confrontation with Bundy before his death sentence and Bundy facing up against Judge Cowart (John Malkovich). Other standouts include Jim Parsons’ convincing performance as Florida prosecutor Larry Simpson and Malkovich’s honest depiction of Judge Edward D. Cowart.
Brandon Trost’s cinematography and Josh Schaeffer’s editing are successful in the fact that they add an artistic flair to the scope of the story. The color yellow is scattered throughout the beginning of the film, creating a sense of balance with the color of Ted Bundy’s clothes and life before his crimes were exposed. This cinematic trope fades from the film as Bundy’s case becomes more serious. The editing often pairs contrasting images with shocking descriptions and audio. One instance places an audio segment of someone reporting on his murders over old tapes of Efron’s Bundy playing in the snow with his family. It’s a morbid juxtaposition of feelings, ultimately conveying the core theme of the film.
Overall, “Extremely Wicked” certainly succeeds in some areas, but the rushed and jarring plot leaves much more to be desired.
“Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile”
MPAA Rating: R