Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile – Film Review by Paschal Keogh
Director: Joe Berlinger
Writers: Elizabeth Kendall, Michael Werwie
Starring: Zac Efron, Lily Collins, Kaya Scodelario, Haley Joel Osment, John Malkovich, Jim Parsons
Liz Kendall (Lily Collins) is a struggling single mother with a two year old girl when she meets Ted Bundy (Zac Effron) in mid seventies Colorado. Bundy is smart, attentive and handsome and soon the couple are living together and talking about marriage. But there is more to the tanned law student than meets the eye, and when Bundy is charged with aggravated abduction, Liz is perplexed. But soon Bundy is being linked with multiple disappearances and murders in Colorado, Utah and (later) Florida and Liz must confront the shocking truth about the man in her life.
Berlinger follows up his recent Netflix documentary series Conversations With A Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes with a film that follows much of the same ground but with less impact and insight. Purported to tell the story of Bundy’s partner and based on a book by Liz, the film begins brightly, with the looming presence of what we know of Bundy hanging in the air while their ordinary domestic life is realistically conveyed.
However, by the second half of the movie, Liz and Ted are estranged, and the insistence of the film to return to her living room to see how she is reacting to every new dramatic moment in Bundy’s life feels forced and unnecessary. Most tellingly, we never believe in the shallowly written Liz, whose presence in the second half of this movie seems contrived only to deflect from the exploitative ambitions of the filmmakers.
Effron is perfectly cast as Ted, and real life episodes from Bundy’s life are convincingly portrayed. However, Berlinger shies away from showing the dark side of Bundy and his crimes are all committed off camera, although some graphic detail is discussed in court. This is a mercy perhaps, but with scant insight into Bundy’s psychotic mind and even less time given to his many victims, what we are left with are a series of re-enactments that, while well done, will feel very familiar to anyone who sat through the Netflix documentary.
Bundy’s story is extraordinary and stranger than fiction. But it is also repulsive and depressing. That the movie is focussed mainly on Bundy’s derring-do – escaping from prison, leaping from courthouse windows – does quite a considerable disservice to the real life terror, pain and grief that this man caused for dozens of young women and their families in the very recent past.
Much has been written about our current obsession with true crime, and while this film is very entertaining, it surely should strive to be more than that to justify its existence. With all the publicity for Extremely Wicked.. focussed on the “I married a serial killer” perspective, it’s clear that Berlinger knew that something extra was required. While he delivers an entertaining and well acted recreation of a catalogue of events from Bundy’s life, he fails to carry through on the movies early promise. As it is, Extremely Wicked may satisfy viewers unfamiliar with the details of Bundy’s case, but will feel over-familiar and slightly redundant to everyone else.