The charming Ted Bundy, also a notorious psychopathic serial killer, is brought to life by Zac Efron (Dirty Grandpa) in Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile, a true story told from the perspective of Bundy’s girlfriend Elizabeth Kloepfer (Lily Collins).
Efron impresses in a stunning, charming, wild-eyed performance, writes Katie Parker, but this true crime tale somehow manages to commit the ultimate cinematic sin of being boring.
When Zac Efron, erstwhile teen heart-throb, was announced as the lead in a Ted Bundy true crime drama, the mere casting felt like a provocation. Picked up by Netflix for a tidy $9 million and accompanied by a cheerfully glib trailer, the project seemed determined to be as inflammatory as possible, the flamboyant logical conclusion to the increasingly fawning true-crime boom.
We needn’t have worried: Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile’s worst offence is being boring.
Directed by documentary-maker Joe Berlinger (also responsible for another Netflix property about Bundy, the docu-series Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes) and starring everyone’s favourite singing jock, Extremely Wicked is based on a memoir by Bundy’s former girlfriend Elizabeth Kloepfer (here ‘Liz Kendell’), beginning as the pair start a sweetly mundane relationship.
Their romance is interrupted, however, when Bundy is arrested in connection to a kidnapping—and then another and another. Before long he is standing trial for numerous murders and Liz is wondering if her nice boyfriend is too good to be true.
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If Efron’s casting seemed like a bold choice, bolder still is the decision Berlinger makes not to depict the infamously gruesome crimes. Instead of violence (of which there is little), Extremely Wicked is most interested in the charisma that allowed Bundy to operate unnoticed for so long.
In a market oversaturated with carelessly rendered images of women’s violent deaths, it’s a sensitive—and unusual—choice, and one that Efron’s stunning, charming, wild-eyed performance more than justifies.
Disappointingly though, even these thoughtful, interesting choices cannot save Extremely Wicked from an overall plodding mediocrity.
Eschewing exploitation but seemingly unsure with what to replace it with, Berlinger gets bogged down in a wikipedia-esque recital of key Bundy moments, ultimately devolving into a tedious courtroom drama. The romance angle feels like a Lifetime movie, while Liz as a central character is a glorified plot device.
Yet while Extremely Wicked provides information rather than insight, Berlinger still deserves credit for, if not reinventing the wheel, suggesting a new template for the ubiquitous true-crime genre. Surprisingly tasteful and occasionally entertaining, Extremely Wicked may not deliver on many of its more interesting promises—but at least it tries.