“Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile” displays the epitome of human evil, embodied in one dangerous man.
Directed by the same filmmaker who spearheaded the Netflix docu-series, “Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes,” Joe Berlinger follows up with a biopic of the unforgivably odious serial killer, Ted Bundy (Zac Efron). Told from the perspective of Bundy’s ex-girlfriend, Liz Kloefer (Lily Collins), “Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile” walks us through the victim’s emotional journey as she unfurls the cruel and nauseating truth about someone so close to her. It highlights the self-blame, anger, and horror felt by those who were blindsided by his deceit. However, “Extremely Wicked” also seems to soft-pedal Bundy’s horrific crimes, as it disallows and obstructs us from seeing his dreadfulness.
Unlike Berlinger’s previous episodic documentary that immediately villainized Bundy, the majority of this new film doesn’t explicitly show the psychopath’s nefarious side. In fact, there are little to no scenes that capture his sheer violence. Omitting the gruesome details is a respectable choice, as the demise of those girls don’t need to be re-enacted, and the film can focus more significantly on Liz’s malaise. The movie becomes her story, in which the viewers witness her complex, smitten-to-distraught progression after suspecting that her long-time dearest may be the one committing heinous acts.
Because the movie primarily represents Liz’s shaky belief and internal strife with her nightmare-dressed-like-a-daydream boyfriend, it slips us into her lens, which then gaslights the audience into falling for his beguiling charisma too. “Extremely Wicked” begins to make the audience second-guess Bundy’s guilt, as Efron’s adequate portrayal of Bundy introduces a split-second thought: maybe he was a decent guy that happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. This angle is controversial because the film starts to minimize Bundy’s macabre actions and instead toys with his cordial moments, like flashbacks of him playing with Liz’s daughter or a close-up shot of his glassy eyes after his deemed sentence. Indeed, it is eerie and unsettling that someone as inhumane as Bundy has humane moments. Still, in an attempt to not sensationalize an abhorrent being, the film unintentionally creates unwarranted remorse for him.
Making a movie about a real murderer who committed over 30 homicides and sexual assaults is tricky, as the filmmakers must be cautious and sensible in avoiding these accidental glorifications of a notorious killer. Although “Extremely Wicked” strays away from directly revering someone so appalling, it doesn’t harshly revile his sadistic acts either. We witness plenty of Bundy’s manipulative charm — expressed through Zac Efron’s devilishly handsome face, kind-eyed nature, and Disney heartthrob smile — and are made aware to not fall for it. Yet, this point doesn’t feel like it’s fully antagonizing the irremissible terror that this vicious man bludgeoned onto his victims.
Honestly, whether this movie has the best storytelling method in showcasing a real serial killer’s biography is a head-scratcher. No matter how these types of films are written or filmed, sensitivity will always be an issue. It starts to make me wonder: is it even possible to recreate a real murderer’s atrocious story without misinterpretation and backlash? People like Bundy are the clear-cut villains of this world, the ones who have actually mutilated lives and instilled fear into a generation. So, is an entertaining adaptation or attention on a horrible killer even necessary?
Perhaps one accomplishing thing these movies have to offer is recognizing those tragically affected by a monster. In the end, “Extremely Wicked” stories the recovery of Liz, who strongly pushes forward after coming to terms with her toxic romantic relationship. So, the movie is worth the watch in letting people acknowledge the extremely wicked, shockingly evil and vile individuals that lurk in the shadows, and that there are good people who are undeservedly targeted by their heartless depravity.
Director: Joe Berlinger
Starring: Zac Efron, Lily Collins, Kaya Scodelario, John Malkovich
Release Date: May 3, 2019