Based on a book by Elizabeth Kendall, it follows Elizabeth coming to terms with the fact her boyfriend, Ted Bundy, may be a notorious serial killer…
When it was announced that there was to be another film about Ted Bundy, probably like most people, I expected it to be a retelling of his crimes and the subsequent manhunt for him. Recently I’ve had issues with films that involve the abuse and murder of women, usually young ones and expected more of the same. When the trailer landed for this film, there was a bit of criticism of it as it looked it was going to go a similar route to most true crime films.
Although I haven’t seen it, a documentary series about Ted Bundy arrived on Netflix. As I understand it, it used interviews with those involved, the police, survivors and others, as well as interview footage of Bundy himself. I have heard it is a compelling watch.
Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil And Vile (the title taken from what the judge said when sentencing Bundy) is a film from the makers of that documentary series. It’s directed by Joe Berlinger, who mostly has made documentary series and films, including the celebrated Paradise Lost trilogy. He also directed Book Of Shadows: Blair Witch 2, a film I liked even if though most Blair Witch fans didn’t.
As I said, the film is based on Elizabeth Kendall’s (or Liz as she’s called throughout) book. This is an important point, one the screenwriter, Michael Werwie, reinforces. This might be a film where Ted Bundy is important, but it never focuses on the crimes. By that I mean, with one exception late on, the film never shows Bundy attacking his victims. We, the audience, see some crime scene images after, photos and footage shot, but not the murders or bodies. Instead the film mostly focuses on Bundy’s relationship with Kendall.
And it’s here where the casting had to be right and it is. Lily Collins is an actress who I’ve not been a fan of in the past, but she is very good as Liz, a woman with a young daughter when she meets Bundy, in 1969 and their relationship began. As the hunt for Bundy progresses through the 1970’s she slowly begins to realise the truth about him. It all leads to a confrontation with Bundy (where the film begins) as she finally confronts him after he has been caught. It’s the best work I’ve seen from Collins.
But even better than Collins is the somewhat inspired casting of Zac Efron as Bundy. Bundy was known for his charm and looks in luring some of his victims and Efron indeed does look the part. Late on, when Bundy is in court on trial, we see a number of young women there to see and perhaps supporting him. At one point we see footage of some of them talking to a reporter, where they think a man who looks like him couldn’t possibly do what he’s accused of. They are of course, talking about Bundy but could be talking about Efron. Yet, behind the smile, there are moments you can see the darkness there. Like Collins, this is also the best work Efron had done on screen.
The supporting cast is very good too, with Kaya Scodelario as Carol Anne, another woman in loved with Bundy, John Malkovich as the trial Judge, Haley Joel Osment as a work colleague of Liz who she has a relationship with and Jim Parsons as the prosecutor in the criminal trial. I also want to give a mention to Grace Victoria Cox, who plays Carol Daronch, a woman who was attacked but survived an encounter with Bundy. She’s only in the one scene, in a courthouse, but is compelling as she has to relive the encounter through her own truly terrified testimony. It’s a reminder, if one was needed, of the horror and devastation Bundy caused.
Because of the approach the film takes to Bundy, Berlinger does tell the story in a straightforward manner, not resorting to sensationalism, but with two compelling performances at its heart, it never needs to.
There are perhaps minor issues. The film never explores or explain why Bundy kept his relationship with Liz going, why he never felt the desire or ‘need’ to kill her, even though she looked similar to a number of his victims. In the second half of the film as Bundy’s trial begins Liz’s role in proceedings is reduced, as the film touches on the media’s obsession with the trial, which had allowed cameras to broadcast the proceedings.
But where the film truly succeeds is never glorifying Bundy. Yes, he was charming, yes he was clever, but as the court scenes in the final part of the film show, he was a monster, nothing more or less. It is refreshing to see a film about a serial killer, where the crimes are not shown. But the film never forgets his victims. The court scene earlier reminds you of what he was like and the film at the end lists all of his known victims, although the police think he may have killed man, many more.
Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile is a compelling watch. with two very good performances at its heart. It is never sensationalist, never gratuitous and very good indeed. It may never fully get into the heart or head of Bundy, but it does show what a monster he was.
Well worth seeing.