Former teen heartthrob Zac Efron has done everything he can to shed his High School Musical baggage, and he’s done a good job of making interesting choices, leaning into his chiseled features and roguish charm while playing against type. Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile follows Efron as Ted Bundy, the notorious serial killer who was finally brought to justice. While the movie purports to be about Liz Kendall (Lily Collins), Ted’s ex-girlfriend and the one who tipped off police to his presence, he doesn’t seem that interested in her as a person, but only her connection to the handsome murderer.
Directed by Joe Berlinger, the documentary filmmaker behind the Paradise Lost masterpieces, the film rightly focuses on just a portion of Bundy’s history: his first incarceration in Washington to his final trial in Florida. While that serves the movie well, as do the surprisingly good remakes of actual footage of Bundy, the film falters without a decent point of view. Kendall is the bookend the sets up and ends the story, but is missing from far too much of it to feel connected to it.
Even with Efron at the center, the movie never glorifies Bundy, but it really doesn’t spend any time with the darker side of him. We know what he’s done and what he’s capable of, but by eschewing it completely, a valid choice, we aren’t left with much. Efron does a grab job of capturing the man who was dependent on his charm in altercations with police and in the courtroom, but that’s pretty much the only side we get to him. True, I’m glad it wasn’t a film about the murders, but it would’ve been nice to see that dark side of Bundy, or get a deeper glimpse into the mind of a true sociopath, which the documentary series Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes (incidentally, also directed by Berlinger) does so well.
The film perks up when we get John Malkovich as a firm judge, and any time Kaya Scodelario (as the woman who had Ted’s baby when he was in custody) and her bad wig are on screen. It’s a decent, if fleeting film, and merely the tip of the iceberg of what could be either an interesting story about a true sociopath OR the story of woman who fell for and ultimately turned in a serial killer, but the film falters at being either. Efron really sells it though.
My Grade – C-