Review: Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile

Alexia Oerter reviews the new feature, Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile and reflects on Efron's twistedly effective performance

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The film opens with the start of the last scene, as quite a few films do when they relate historical events and the audience has the ability to already know how the story ends. Liz (Lily Collins) and Ted (Zac Efron), in prison at that point, face each other, which was a good way to show that everything happening in the film previous to that specific scene was to add up and lead us to it, while giving more weight to the final confrontation. 

Numerous reviews criticised the movie for not focussing enough on the crimes themselves and their details, expecting to see more of the “wicked”, “evil” and “vile” side of Ted Bundy’s story. I personally think that this film is more about the uncertainty and ambiguity felt all around by Bundy’s contemporaries regarding his character and ability to charm and seduce his way out of pretty much any situation. People at the time couldn’t believe that Bundy was capable of such atrocities and the fact that, in the film, his culpability is not explicitly shown until the end illustrates this universal doubt very well, even though the audience knows he’s guilty all along.

‘I personally think that this film is more about the uncertainty and ambiguity felt all around by Bundy’s contemporaries’

Also, the director of the movie, Joe Berlinger, created the programme Conversation with a Killer : The Ted Bundy Tapes and probably intended the two to be watched in conversation with each other. He told several journalists of his hyperawareness to not glorify a serial killer. He asserted that the fact that he is not showing all the violence that took place is being faithful to the book written by Elizabeth Kloepfer, on which the movie is based, on one hand. Yet, showing how deceptively ordinary a monster can be in appearance on the other, which is “far scarier” in his opinion.  

‘He sometimes seemed harmless, sometimes made me very uncomfortable’

I was very impressed by Zac Efron’s performance, of both his physical transformation that made his resemblance to the murderer uncanny, and the ambiguity of his character. He sometimes seemed harmless, sometimes made me very uncomfortable, while keeping his overall arrogance and audacity which was apparently characteristic of Bundy. I maybe would have liked to see more on how he manipulated his victims into trusting him, or the process of his escapes from prison and how he managed to stay free for so long, as for example, the second time he had to lose quite a lot of weight to be able to fit through the hole in the ceiling. And we know Liz was the one who gave Ted’s name to the police but in the movie it is not really shown how suspicious of him she was at that stage of their relationship. 

At the end of the movie, we see some recordings of Ted Bundy and his trials, some scenes that were realistically recreated in the film. It was truly terrifying to see the real Ted Bundy repeat a sentence said a few minutes earlier by a similarly dressed and styled Zac Efron, and I think it reinforced this idea of deception and betrayal of a seemingly charming character that the director wanted to convey through this project.

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