Movie Review: Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile


photo retrieved from imbd

Zac Efron, Lily Collins, and Macie Carmosino in “Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile”

Kate Wolfe, Reporter

“Extremely wicked, shockingly evil and vile” is an infamous description by Judge Edward Cowart about Ted Bundy, America’s most notorious serial killer. Cowart described Bundy’s crimes to be “extremely wicked, shockingly evil, vile and the product of a design to inflict a high degree of pain and utter indifference to human life.” Ted Bundy confessed to murdering 30 women in the 1970s, but the actual number is speculated to be much higher. Bundy used his charm and good looks to lure people in, completely entrancing them before turning them into his next victim. That same charm and good looks made him the most popular serial killer in history with countless women sending him fan mail and attending his trial, some even going so far as to dress up like his victims. To this day America still harbors a strange fascination with Ted Bundy, and he has been the center of multiple popular shows and movies. Netflix original “Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile,” directed by Joe Berlinger, is the most recent.

Extremely Wicked” features two very well-known faces with Zac Efron starring as Ted Bundy and Lily Collins co-starring as Elizabeth, Bundy’s longtime girlfriend. After launching his career in Disney’s “High School Musical,” Efron’s projects have matured throughout the years with recent appearances in the movies “Baywatch” and “The Greatest Showman.” However, “Extremely Wicked” is significantly darker than his previous movies as Efron leans into his charisma and looks to embody Ted Bundy. Although Netflix received some heat from critics, arguing that casting heartthrob Zac Efron glorifies Bundy and reinforces a twisted, problematically positive view of this killer, this controversial casting accentuates and accomplishes Berlinger’s goal of showing Ted Bundy through the eyes of the people he charmed and manipulated. One of these people was Elizabeth Kendall, Bundy’s girlfriend who refused to believe the truth about him for years throughout numerous accusations, trials, and convictions.

Loosely based on Elizabeth Kendall’s memoir “Phantom Prince: My Life with Ted Bundy,” “Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile” starts from Elizabeth’s point of view, a single mom trying to hold down a job. The movie opens with a scene in which she describes her insecurities about finding a relationship to a friend and her doubt that any man would be thrilled about the package deal of her and her four-year-old daughter. They go out to a bar where she meets and is quickly charmed by Ted Bundy. She takes him home and when she wakes up the next morning she finds him in the kitchen making breakfast for her daughter. He seems almost too good to be true. Their relationship becomes serious as she falls in love with him and he helps her raise her daughter. They are the picture of a perfect family, the perfect relationship, until Ted Bundy’s name ends up on a suspect list for the murder of a young women in Utah. He is arrested and tried and soon his name is being linked to numerous other murders across the country. As the trials progress Bundy continuously preaches his innocence, assuring Elizabeth that he’s “going to fix things.” Elizabeth begins to separate herself from him, spiraling into alcoholism as she tries to come to terms with the harsh truth of who Ted Bundy really is. Bundy is charged with multiple counts of aggravated kidnapping, attempted murder, burglary, murder, and rape. On January 24, 1989, he was executed by electric chair.

“Extremely Wicked” breaks away from the stereotypical serial killer plot line. In fact, Berlinger seems to do everything he can to not paint Bundy as “wicked” or “evil.”  We never get to see inside Ted Bundy’s mind, only the charismatic persona he parades. One of the most important directorial choices Berlinger made is that we never see any of Ted Bundy’s crimes being committed on screen. The entire movie revolves around the trial, rather than Bundy actually in the act of committing these crimes. It focuses on how he deluded the people around him and showcases the growing fear Elizabeth is feeling as it becomes harder and harder to deny that the man she’s in love with may have committed the atrocious acts he is being accused of. We see Bundy the way that Elizabeth did: funny, charming, impossible not to root for. Berlinger tries to combat this image of Bundy and keeps the audience on edge by cutting between happy romantic clips of Bundy and Elizabeth’s relationship and news headlines of missing girls across the country. However, ultimately what make this movie so chilling is that the fact that by the time the movie ends we realize just how easily we have been seduced by Bundy’s charm even though we knew from the start that he was “extremely wicked, shockingly evil and vile.”