Movie Review : Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil & Vile (2019)
* this review contains mild spoilers *
Iconic American boogeyman Ted Bundy found a way to collective consciousness from the grave, earlier this year. Again. Netflix announced two project that would feature the serial killer: a documentary series and a biopic starring pretty boy Zac Efron. Internet lost its shit. Half was offended that someone dared making Bundy even more attractive than he actually was and the other fell in love with the idea that such a handsome man could be so dangerous. Again. Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile came out earlier this month and it turned out to be a minor tragedy.
Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile is based on a memoir by Elizabeth Kendall (Lily Collins) an ex-girlfriend of Ted Bundy (Zac Efron), who he remained obsessed with until his execution in 1989. It covers a period that ranges from their encounter in the 1960s to his trial and death. He killed people when they were living together, after he got into the judiciary system and even after he escaped to Florida, remaining in contact with Kendall via phone calls. The movie is meant to be her point of view and an exploration of what it’s like to be in love with a psychopath and a manipulator. But it isn’t quite that.
I wanted this movie to be confronting. The pieces are all there: a sexy, confident boyfriend who obviously lies his ass of to everyone and their mom, brutal murders, ominous police officers who are trying to speak sense into Elizabeth and copious amounts of solitude. But Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile puts it all together. Director Joe Berlinger is enamored with filming ultra-charismatic Efron and doesn’t hesitate to pull away from Liz Kendall’s point of view when it fit what he wanted to do. In the movie, you see Bundy lie, assault people, plot to break free from jail, but you never see him kill women. Not until the very end.
A Ted Bundy movie without atrocious killings is like a Barack Obama movie without speeches or a Keith Richards movie without drugs. It misses the fucking point. Everyone with a pulse (and a mild interest in serial killers) knows Bundy was charismatic and a major leagues manipulator. His legacy is supposed to be confronting: serial killers are not just secluded weirdos making random victims. Sometimes they’re good-looking, amicable people. Sometimes they have strategies to reel you in. Joe Berlinger conveniently tiptoes around the hard truth in the name of “well, it’s Liz’s point of view and she didn’t know.”
Except that he lets go of Liz’s point of view whenever it suits him. No, a 30 seconds ellipse of Bundy making one victim at the end is not enough. This movie’s strength should’ve been to juxtapose the seducing and the atrocious, which never happens. There’s a scene of Bundy crying, for fuck’s sake. WHAT THE FUCK IS THIS SUPPOSED TO MAKE ME FEEL? I’M NOT GOING TO SYMPATHIZE WITH TED FUCKING BUNDY.
Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile is one of these movies you desperately want to love, but that loves itself way too much. I mean, Zac Efron did a tremendous Ted Bundy. He’s a lot closer to the original thing that I originally expected him to be. But he’s the only character who seems to truly exist in the movie. The rest gravitate around him like dead planets around a deadly star. I don’t have anything against that per se, but if you’re going to go that route… you need to show the man for who he really was and Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile fails to do that in every possible way.