Movie Review: Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, and Vile



Starring: Zac Efron and Lily Collins

Directed By: Joe Berlinger (Some Kind of Monster, Blair Watch Project 2)

Rated: R

Runtime: 1 hour 50 minutes

In 1981, the girlfriend of America’s most notorious serial killer Ted Bundy wrote a book about her experience titled “The Phantom Prince”.That book is the inspiration for this Netflix original movie.It tells the story of Ted Bundy being apprehended by law enforcement and the trials that followed.While the movie does deal with the mental torment Elizabeth Kendall went through, the driving force of the movie is Ted Bundy, played heroically by Zac Efron.

Obviously, Bundy is the focal point of the movie.He has an amazing story.One of, if not THE, most heinous killer in American history.He escaped from jail twice.He often defended himself.His trial was televised.An arraignment of his was read in a courtroom lobby with Ted Bundy allowed to respond.It’s a truly amazing story.A story that hasn’t really been told properly in a movie before.(Yes, I’m aware there are other movies about Ted Bundy)This movie, however, seems to paint Bundy as a sympathetic figure.The movie spends a great deal of time questioning whether or not Bundy is being framed by the police and how he will mount a defense.It feels very problematic watching it unfold.

While I understand that through Kendall’s eyes (she’s telling the story after all) Ted Bundy might not be guilty of butchering over two dozen people.Why would the movie choose to spend so much time on a guilty or innocent narrative when that was never in doubt?Why would it remove the scenes in which Bundy threatened to kill his live-in girlfriend?It seems irresponsible to set up a story that doesn’t properly explain that, yes, Ted Bundy was a vicious murderer.Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, and Vile seems tailor made to set up internet trolls for a “You know…Ted Bundy might have been set up by the police” debate.

With all the movie’s problems, I cannot deny the performances in this.Not a huge body of work, a lot of comedies, but this the performance of Zac Efron’s career to date.He is utterly captivating as Ted Bundy.He never really disappears into the role, I was always aware that I was looking at Zac Efron, but it’s close enough to get into the story.Bundy’s very intelligent, very affable, very handsome.Lily Collins is a tragic figure in this movie.She goes through personal hell, but the movie barely skims the surface of it.I would have liked more of her reactions to different things throughout the film.John Malkovich is great as always in the role of a Florida judge towards the movie’s end.

Our director Joe Berlinger is a documentary guy.He’s made over 40 docs in his career including the Metallica “Some Kind of Monster” documentary.His only other feature film was Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 which is one of the worst 50 worst movies ever.I bring that up to highlight that we’re dealing with a relatively unexperienced narrative filmmaker.I think, even still, he should have realized that it was pretty irresponsible to pose the question of Bundy’s guilt.

Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, and Vile is a mixed bag of a movie.Despite the flaws at its very core, I couldn’t look away.It never shows a murder.It isn’t a violent movie by any means.But it never answers the questions of “How?” or “Why?”.People who lived through the original events won’t learn much of anything new.And to be honest, I’m not sure they’re the target audience here.I suspect this movie is for people who have never heard of Ted Bundy before.The movie attempts to maintain this suspenseful “Did he do it” tension until the final scenes.

Without a definitive tale of Ted Bundy’s life, this is an odd way to position your movie.I want to praise Efron’s performance here, but I can’t heap praise on the movie as a whole.I was enthralled by it.Sometimes for all the wrong reasons.

On a scale of "See It/Stream It/Skip It" – Skip It - Efron’s performance, while terrific, isn’t enough for you to click play. It's not an award worthy performance, just a solid role from an unlikely source.

If you liked My Friend Dahmer, Zodiac, or Papillon you might like Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, and Vile

2.5 out of 5 stars – a movie of conflicting impulses


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