FILM REVIEW: Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile
Single mother Liz thinks she’s found the man of her dreams in Ted. But their seemingly perfect life is turned upside down when Ted is arrested on suspected kidnapping charges, then linked to murders in multiple states. Adamant that he’s being framed, the former law student theatrically defends himself in America’s first nationally televised trial while Liz struggles to come to terms with the truth. Adapted from the nonfiction memoir by Elizabeth Kendall (aka Liz Kloepfer) Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile recounts how she was manipulated for years by a seemingly adoring boyfriend, yet future death row inmate, Ted Bundy.
Director: Joe Berlinger
Cast: Zac Efron, Lily Collins, Kaya Scodelario, John Malkovich, Haley Joel Osment, Jim Parsons, Angela Sarafyan
Review by Jean Wong
Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile (2019) is a startlingly accurate depiction of one of America’s most famous serial killers, Ted Bundy. Adapted from the memoir of Liz Kendall, who had been dating Bundy on-and-off for six years, Extremely Wicked promises a new perspective to the otherwise enigmatic criminal.
The star-studded cast employed for this film certainly did not go to waste. Zac Efron as Ted Bundy is marvelous, considering this is his first venture into the role of a charismatic villain. Being charismatic is not surprising for Efron — it’s how he handled the subtleties of the psychopathic elements of a serial killer that really made Bundy feel conceivable. For her part, Lily Collins played the role of Liz Kendall delightfully, transitioning from a woman in love to a woman in denial.
And yet, despite being adapted from Kendall’s memoir, Extremely Wicked quickly drops Kendall’s perspective in favour of focusing heavily on Bundy instead. While Collins does a marvelous job in her role, she quickly fades away to what feels like a secondary character in the later half of the movie. The trailer for Extremely Wicked promises a story told from Kendall’s perspective with perhaps a bit of violence thrown in. But the film is none of these things. Instead, apart from a brief imagining of Bundy and Kendall’s life together at the start, the rest of the film plays out as a courtroom drama with many recreations of Bundy’s trials and his interviews. It feels a little disappointing as Extremely Wicked never got deep enough into Kendall’s head for us to understand how it feels to be dating someone on trial for murder.
Berlinger intended for this film to portray the charming side of Bundy — to explain how not only Kendall but many other women were bought over by him and even convinced of his innocence. Opting not to include scenes of Bundy’s violence was a stylistic choice to keep us from witnessing his crimes — after all, neither did Kendall and those women. It puts us in an easier position to understand why they had a hard time believing he was guilty. However, this is a difficult line to tread as more often than not, the scene recreations of Bundy’s charming demeanour resulted in a comedic tone which, although accurately depicted, may not have been appropriate when discussing the grisly crimes that Bundy committed. Yes, he was funny — but he was also a serial killer. They make for good laughs until you remember that these are real victims we are talking about. It suddenly feels uneasy to laugh at the situation presented to us.
Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile boasts a cast as well-known as the serial killer it aims to depict. And the cast definitely brought some spiff to the movie with their incredible acting. For viewers going into this with little knowledge on Ted Bundy and his crimes, Extremely Wicked does serve up a good idea of why Bundy was so sensationalised — his trials were the first ever to be televised in America. Otherwise, the film may just seem like a reiteration of facts that does nothing but give little insight to who Ted Bundy, America’s most notorious serial killer, really is.