Zac Efron Sheds Away His “High School Musical” Days And Gives Us The Most Mature Performance Of His Career As He Portrays The “Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile” Serial Killer Ted Bundy.
2019 is proving to be the year that attention is returned to infamous killer Ted Bundy. Acclaimed film documentary producer and director Joe Berlinger has made quite the name for himself in the documentary world with credits like: “The Paradise Lost” trilogy, “Iconoclasts”, and “Whitey: United States of America v. James J. Bulger”.
Berlinger has recently and extensively put his focus on serial killer Ted Bundy. He is the producer and director of the documentary series “Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes” which started streaming on Netflix in January 2019. This four-part series has become a big streaming hit for Netflix as Berlinger uses Bundy’s own words to illustrate his life and crimes and is filled with information people may not be aware of or want to remember about Ted Bundy.
Berlinger has now expanded his examination of Ted Bundy’s life even further in directing a biopic film that looks like a high end TV movie. The film titled “Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, and Vile” (try saying that five times fast), originally premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and being picked up by Netflix to debut on its streaming platform. The film’s mouth full title comes from what the judge described Bundy’s crimes as in his final jury trial in Florida. Berlinger’s film is also based on the book, “The Phantom Prince: My Life with Ted Bundy” by his girlfriend and love of his life Elizabeth “Liz” Kendall.
“Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, and Vile” is an entertaining and different perspective of the examination of Bundy’s dual life and trial which led to a death sentence. One of the things that Berlinger does differently which also got a lot of backlash from the films trailer, is the depiction of Bundy as being a handsome, charismatic, sharp-witted type that one could never peg as a killer. The film got lots of criticism for depicting Bundy as too charming, but that’s exactly who he was. It is what made him such a deadly murderer in the first place and how he was able to get women to trust him.
Playing the role of Bundy is Zac Efron, who himself is handsome, charming and a sharply tuned actor. Efron is smart casting in the lead, he’s always been a good actor and here he relishes at the opportunity to stretch his abilities as an actor, and it’s his performance that makes the film a must see.
The film starts with quick flashes between the last meeting of Liz (Lily Collins) and Ted (Zac Efron) and with the first time they met. The first act shows Ted in an ordinary relationship with Liz and being a father figure to her daughter. As the film unravels we are shown his pursuits in Utah and Colorado. Berlinger’s approach allows us to see Bundy’s home life, as he tries to pass for normal. Within the second act it becomes more of the account of his trial. It’s captivating to watch how much Bundy fought to convince everyone around him that he was innocent of the crimes and that he was being framed. His ability to be so charming was making all of this convincing except to the victims lawyers and families.
The charm of Efron works as he aims to slip inside the skin of a lunatic, with Efron perfectly matched to the charms and impatience of the monster. He submits an impressively nuanced performance that single handedly carries the feature. One of the interesting things about the film is that you never see Bundy commit any of the crimes of which he is accused, not until the very end of the film with a quick cut. Director Joe Berlinger chose to do that out of respect for the victims. Berlinger said in an interview: “Why would you want to show the worst moment of somebody’s life, the moment that they’re expiring at the hands of a vicious killer? If I was a parent or a loved one, to me, that’s disrespectful to the victim”. While the film doesn’t shy away from the fact that violence did take place. The movie talks extensively about the murders in how they were committed and the aftermath of the violence.
Efron never has to transform into a sinister person, the scariest thing about that is that it makes it all the more possible go right along with Bundy’s pleas to believe he is innocent. The last few minutes has a real impact in seeing what Bundy is capable of that sends an icy chill through your veins. It would have been a completely different film to see Efron depicting all of his crimes. I think they did a well enough job without the re-enactments.
Berlinger makes the film not just solely about Ted but also about Liz’s relationship with him. Berlinger’s documentary “Conversations with a Killer” did not spend much time on Liz’s relationship nor was she interviewed in the documentary. The real Liz who is still alive today paid visits to the set and consulted to make it as accurate as possible. “Extremely Wicked” makes Liz a second main character, she always held out hope for Ted, believing in his innocence, yet condemning herself to a life of guilt for pointing a finger in the early stages of Ted’s accusations, where the guilt drove her to alcoholism and depression.
Ted is a horrible person but could always present himself charismatically to the public with no remorse. Liz is an innocent person and an upstanding citizen, but because of her deep affections in her relationship with Ted, she becomes destroyed by him from within. Berlinger keeps focus on Bundy’s relationship with Liz, his undying proclamation of innocence, and his many escapades of avoiding the law and imprisonment.
Lily Collins (daughter of musician Phil Collins) gets a good role as Liz, while Kaya Scodelario disappears into her part as Bundy’s steadfast girlfriend. “Big Bang Theory” star Jim Parsons is also cast against type and gives a great performance as the dogged Florida prosecutor trying to convict Bundy. Acting icon John Malkovich makes an excellent appearance as the sharp-tongued, theatrical judge during Bundy’s media circus trial. The film does have trouble maintaining a dramatic vision from time to time. If anything both Lily Collins and Zac Efron give fantastic performances, and it’s some of the top reasons to remain invested within the picture. Berlinger’s different vantage point is also a key to the appeal of the film. He shows us a different angle of the Ted Bundy we all have known and seen from endless media coverage, documentaries and interviews. He makes the film a lot more captivating by showing a new side of this story to the world.
GRADE: ★★★★☆ (4 out of 5)