Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile is a new film about Ted Bundy from director Joe Berlinger, who also made the documentary Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes. Based on the memoir of Bundy’s former girlfriend Elizabeth Kloepfer, the movie offers a unique perspective on Bundy’s crimes. It debuted at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival.
One of this film’s biggest issues is that the narrative, particularly in the first half, is quite jumbled. The movie is presented in a nonlinear way and is not able to justify this structure. If you have a general knowledge of what happened, you will be able to follow what is going on in the story, but it can be relatively difficult to understand the film if you are coming in blind. Thankfully, the story does clear up significantly towards the second half when the main trial begins.
This movie has been met with controversy because of its supposed idealized portrayal of Bundy. The claim that the film glorifies Bundy isn’t entirely accurate. Bundy is known to have been quite charismatic and photogenic, and the movie does an excellent job of capturing those qualities of that personality. However, the film’s main purpose is to show the perspective of his former girlfriend, which changed from believing his innocence wholeheartedly to realizing that he was a monster.
That being said, for a movie that is supposedly about Elizabeth and her perspective, Elizabeth’s arc is frustratingly weak. She is given very little growth over the course of the film, with her only big change coming in the final scene. Since the movie is adapted from her memoir, you would think that she would have been a much more rounded and developed character. Something as simple as seeing more of her story when she wasn’t with Bundy would have gone a long way in making the film more effective.
Despite all its flaws, the movie still manages to be quite enjoyable and interesting. The true-crime genre has been experiencing a resurgence as of late, and this film is sure to capture the public’s eye. Although the nonlinear storyline is a bit confusing at times, it does lend itself to quick pacing, as you are constantly jumping between important events in Bundy’s life. However, the movie is at its most effective when the scenes get longer and the suspense starts to build.
The acting in the film is relatively solid. Zac Efron isn’t the revelation that many claim him to be, although he does a very good job of recreating some of the real-life footage that is shown over the credits. At times, it is hard to take him seriously because he is so over-the-top and you start to remember his previous roles. Lily Collins is solid in her role but is sadly underused. John Malkovich is great as the judge that presides over Bundy’s case.
On a technical level, the movie was pretty good. There are a few editing issues and odd directorial choices, like excessive use of slow-motion, but for the most part, the look of the film is nice. The production design does an excellent job of periodizing the movie and immersing you in the era in which these crimes were committed. The soundtrack also features some of the best songs of the time, making the film a bit more fun to watch.
Overall, Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile was an entertaining but extremely flawed movie. It is definitely worth your time to check it out, especially since it will be widely accessible on Netflix, but it doesn’t live up to its potential.
Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile debuts in select theaters and on Netflix on May 3.