With true crime becoming the latest niche interest phenomenon thanks to Netflix documentaries and various podcasts, we have witnessed many a portrayal of infamous serial killers. Disney toy-boy Ross Lynch donned the blonde 70s haircut and spectacles of cannibal Jeffrey Dahmer, Charlize Theron gained thirty pounds to play Aileen Wuornos, and we will see Damon Herrimen taken on cult-leader Charles Manson in Tarantino’s ninth picture, Once Upon A Time In Hollywood. Now added to the list is another Disney minion turned comedy sex symbol turned actual decent actor, Zac Efron. Trading his board shorts and microphone for sideburns and a leather jacket, Efron brings one of the most despicable serial killers, Ted Bundy to our screens, and gloriously so. Boasting Efron’s performance, a strategically well-written script and a truly bizarre story to depict, Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile is an unmissable viewing experience.
The film begins with the first meeting between Bundy and his eventual girlfriend of almost a decade, Elizabeth Kloepfer (Lily Collins). From her perspective we see a wholesome, loving and promising relationship break down into suspicion, doubt and fear. As Bundy becomes more well-known to the police, Kloepfer’s dream of a perfect all-American family begins to crumble. The film shows the difficulty of letting a lover go and the despair and denial one can spiral into. Although Collins hasn’t always given the most impressive performances, staying close to the cute dreamy girly love interest, this was her opportunity to prove herself and she did it. With every mood that Elizabeth feels throughout the film, Collins portrays emotional and physical engagement so fervent the viewer can feel it exude off the screen. The culminating scene between Efron and Collins is searing and affirms the film’s starring pair is a match made in film heaven and reality hell.
“The culminating scene between Efron and Collins is searing and affirms the film’s starring pair is a match made in film heaven and reality hell”
The film shows Bundy’s incarceration in various states, his two escapes and his trial, which became the first ever to be nationally televised. Although it is inarguable public knowledge that Bundy committed some of the most heinous crimes against women in America, the film acts as though we don’t know that, making the audience, to a minor extent, doubt their prior knowledge of Bundy. Efron’s performance draws many similarities to that of Philip Seymour Hoffman in Doubt in that respect. It takes remarkable skill to control how much information the audience is ascertaining and Efron, like Hoffman, has the audience right where he wants them, somewhere between intrigue and repulsion. It’s safe to say that Efron’s career will be divided between before and after he took on this role, leaving behind silly comedies and embarking on a career as a truly talented and skilled actor. The success of the film rested mainly on Efron’s ability, and he did not fail.
The supporting cast includes a firm-standing presence in the form of John Malkovich as Edward Cowart and a minor but confident Jim Parsons as prosecutor Larry Simpson. Out of the film’s few downfalls, former Skins star Kaya Scodelario’s performance is the most disappointing. Her melodramatic portrayal of Bundy’s second companion Carole-Ann Boone is an unfortunate reminder that we are watching reconstructed events. Up until her entrance into the film, we are so totally entranced by the tasteful factuality that we believe that we are watching real footage.
The success of the film can be largely attributed to how much it spends on the factual, legal side of Bundy’s story and how much to depict from the turbulent relationship between Bundy and Kloepfer. The film does not go to extreme lengths to humanise Bundy nor does it take a holier than thou approach, it just shows how some people can be high-functioning people in one aspect of their lives and be the bottom of the food chain in others. Director Joe Berlinger does not try to explain away or justify Bundy’s actions, he allows the events of the film to have no apparent instigator, highlighting the revelation to which Bundy woke the wider public up; some people are just born evil.
In a nutshell: Exhilarating, intriguing, horrifying and spectacular, Extremely Wicked, Shocking Evil and Vile is an intriguingly layered portrayal of Ted Bundy and a career-defining film for Zac Efron.