A look into the relationships, capture and trial of serial killer Ted Bundy.
Serial killers have always held a fascination with audiences. After all, they’ve provided great material to make nail bitingly suspenseful thrillers (Silence of The Lambs), gory horror films (SAW franchise) and dramas with deep psychological analysis of these monsters which many times make us examine our own lives and its relationship with evil.
Director Joe Berlinger certainly wants Extremely Wicked, Vile and Evil to be in the latter category, studying the life of infamous 60 -70’s serial Killer Theodore Robert Bundy, his relationship with girlfriend Elizabeth Kendall and ultimately his scandalous murder trial.
The biggest draw is easily Zac Efron’s performance as Bundy, with Efron still looking to shed away his wholesome persona from audiences that met him as a high school dancing and singing teenager after having gotten a 12 pack and moved into raunchy comedies.
It’s always interesting to see actors purposefully go out their comfort zone, trying to show another side of theirs. When done right you get fantastic results such as Adam Sandler in Punch-Drunk Love, Tom Cruise in Collateral or Robin Williams in One Hour Photo.
Using his natural charisma and likeability, the actor accurately and effectively portrays the criminal, giving a praise worthy performance of a monster who is playing the role of a regular man and is scarier because of what isn’t shown than what is, even nailing that false smile that Bundy (and many serial killers) perfected . But Efron never reaches the heights of the aforementioned examples albeit not due to a lack of talent on his part but rather the lack of a great script.
It just moves by too fast, only superficially going through around 10 years of Bundy’s life – understandable due to time limits – and the film itself sadly has the production values and feel of a TV movie (or Netflix movie, in this case).
Another downfall is that the most thematically refreshing thread is slightly pulled and then forgotten in the middle of the story. Lilly Collins playing Elizabeth Kendall, Bundy’s long term partner who constantly struggles with the fact that she has possibly fallen in love and lived with a serial killer for years.
The movie decides to just gloss over the devastating effects this might have on a human being, preferring to spend more time on the murder trial, which although certainly fascinating, is also only given a superficial look due to how much crazy events happened during the trial.
Collins starts out and ends the story on a strong note as they contain the most interesting scenes but is relented to looking really pale and dead eyed for most of the middle part and even disappears for large portions.
Beside Collins, the production also has a stellar and equally talented cast which includes John Malkovich, Kaya Scodelario, Jeffrey Donovan, Jim Parsons and Haley Joel Osment that is slightly wasted in service of Efron’s (admittedly good) performance.
An excellently eerie and disturbing performance by Zac Efron is not enough to save this ultimately pedestrian and superficial look into the life of Ted Bundy and what could have been an interesting character study, not into the mind of a serial killer as we’ve seen countless times before, but into the mind of those that knew, loved and were tricked by a serial killer.