Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile
Director: Joe Berlinger
Writer: Michael Werwie
Based on: Elizabeth Kendall’s autobiography The Phantom Prince: My Life with Ted Bundy
Cast: Lily Collins, Zac Efron, Angela Sarafyan, Kaya Scodelario, Haley Joel Osment, Terry Kinney, Jim Parsons, John Malkovich
Part of: /slash Filmfestival 1/2
Seen on: 4.5.2019
When Liz (Lily Collins) takes a break from being a single mom and goes out with her friend Joanna (Angela Sarafyan), she meets law student Ted Bundy (Zac Efron). He is charming and the two hit it off. It doesn’t take long for him to be a fixture in her life, as well as the of her daughter. But six years later, Ted is arrested and charged with being a serial killer. Liz doesn’t believe that there is any truth to the allegations. But as the trial goes on, she has to face the fact that maybe she doesn’t know as Ted as well as she thought she did.
If Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile had been programmed at the edge of the festival day, I probably would have skipped it because I feared that it would feed into the mythology of Ted Bundy too much. But it was programmed between two films I wanted to see anyway, meaning I was already there, so I gave it a chance – only to see that my fears were absolutely warranted, even if the film isn’t bad.
The film has many good ingredients. It’s really well-made, manages to build up tension, the cast is excellent and the soundtrack is very good. Also, shout-out to the costume department, especially for Bundy’s cardigans – I had some serious cardigan envy. But as good as all of that was, the framing of the story just wasn’t right. The film is absolutely not interested in Bundy’s murder victims at all. And even Liz – another kind of victim in this story – gets way less attention than Bundy himself. In the end, we get another story about how charming and wild and cool Bundy was, even though he did kill a few women. In short, the film doesn’t examine the mythology that surrounds Bundy critically so much as it feeds into it and build it up. And that starts with casting Efron as Bundy.
“Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile” is a quote, by the way, from the judge’s sentencing statement on Bundy where he also regrets that such a brilliant man would turn to murder as if his brilliance was the biggest waste here and not the lost lives of the women he killed. The film seems to replicate that sentiment.
I have to admit that I also found it extremely vexing that the film ends with Liz begging Ted to finally set her free. This is not a criticism of Kendall herself. I don’t know if the situation went down like that and anyway, whatever she needs to cope with that particular situation, she should have it. But I do think that the film should have taken a more critical stance here as well. But then again, it utterly lacked critical distance for me in pretty much every regard, so I guess there was no chance for it to do any better here.
I do appreciate that the film didn’t dwell on the violence that Bundy inflicted on his murder victims and didn’t sensationalize his killings too much (although they sensationalized him enough for two or three films, so in the end that still didn’t work out for me). But other than that, the film is definitely the kind of coverage Bundy would have wished for – and not the one he deserved.
Summarizing: Skip it.