A film review by Craig J. Koban May 19, 2019

EXTREMELY WICKED, SHOCKINGLY EVIL, AND VILE jj

2019, No MPAA rating, 108 mins.

 

Zac Efron as Ted Bundy  /  Lily Collins as Elizabeth Kloepfer / Liz Kendall  /  John Malkovich as Judge Edward Cowart  /  Kaya Scodelario as Carole Ann Boone  /  Jeffrey Donovan as John O'Connell  /  Angela Sarafyan as Joanna  /  Jim Parsons as Larry Simpson  /  Dylan Baker as David Yokum  /  James Hetfield as Officer Bob Hayward  /  Haley Joel Osment as Jerry

Directed by Joe Berlinger  /  Written by Michael Werwie

 

 

 

ORIGINAL FILM

EXTREMELY WICKED, SHOCKINGLY EVIL, AND VILE is an extremely uneven, shockingly misguided, and dull biographical crime thriller.  Itís a portrait of Ted Bundy - one of the most loathsome serial killers of all time - and his relationship with his then girlfriend before the law caught up with him and his heinous crimes.  Sadly, this film is never really sure what it wants to be about and from what perspective itís trying to hone in on in regards to Bundy, his ties with this woman, and his horrendous murders.  EXTREMELY WICKED, SHOCKINGLY EVIL AND VILE wants, I think, to tell this story through the eyes of said girlfriend, but it's ultimately and shallowly compelled by Bundy himself, which ends up leaving the film feeling dramatically empty.   

It's ironic that Bundy had a reputation for tricking and deceiving his prey with his charisma and charm, and this film sort of follows suit: It lures you into this sordid world with a lead performance by Zac Efron that's filled with superficial intrigue, to be sure, only then to add up to very little of substance when the screenplay built around his good work seems pedestrian and lacking in focus.  On a positive, EXTREMELY WICKED, SHOCKINGLY EVIL, AND VILE is not an obligatory biopic chronicling the entirety of Bundy's life, but is more interestingly an expose on his increasingly erratic mental break from reality in the 1970s, during which time he faced mounting legal pressures and one arrest after another...and all building towards a crescendo when he was finally arrested and put on trial for a series of unsolved, but linked homicides.  

 

 

Nearly everything about Bundy's murders has been covered in multiple forms throughout the years, so there's very little this film could tell us already about them that we couldn't already get from a basic Wikipedia search.  The truly captivating angle here should have been his doomed and tragic relationship with that poor woman who believed, in her heart of hearts, that her boyfriend was not a monster.  There's a fascinating film to be made of this woman's sense of grief and denial, but EXTREMELY WICKED, SHOCKINGLY EVIL, AND VILE isn't as interested, mostly because it unfortunately gets sucked into the vortex of Bundy, his hellish acts, and unavoidable trial. 

The film opens promisely in the late 60s with Bundy meeting Liz Kendall (Lilly Collins) in Seattle, and she soon allows for this man to become a focal point in her life as a single mother.  They manage to hit it off relatively quickly, which builds to a budding romance, but as Ted moves to Utah for law school they both have to deal with the pains of being apart.  Ted's life changes forever when he's arrested during a routine traffic stop by a police officer and becomes entangled in multiple legal woes that culminates with him becoming the prime suspect in a series of unspeakably ghastly murders.  Even though he's incarcerated and potentially could be going to prison facing the death penalty, Ted remains steadfastly committed to Liz, and she seems initially unwilling to succumb to any thought that the love of her life was capable, in any way shape or form, of such nightmarish evil.  Everything careens to Ted's climatic court case, which became one of the first to be televised, leaving him becoming an instant media sensation and a talking point for many female admirers, most of which mistakenly thought he was pure and innocent. 

Bundy, as history has shown, was no saint.  After decades of denials, he would admit to the killing of 30 women, but there are some that believe that he committed more atrocities during his lustful spree.  When he didn't use his natural good looks and easygoing manner to attract women he would resort to faking injuries and disabilities to lure them in for the unsuspecting kill.  He cut off the heads of a dozen of his victims.   He even had sex with some of the decomposing bodies.  The title of this film comes from Judge Edward Cowart during Bundy's infamous trial, who described his killings - during his post-sentencing - as "extremely wicked, shockingly evil, vile and the product of a design to inflict a high degree of pain and utter indifference to human life."  It should be noted that Bundy's crimes are never once portrayed in any detail in the film, which is somewhat understandable.  This choice has the effect of normalizing him to make it easy to understand why a woman like Liz would have allowed him into her inner circle.  I think EXTREMELY WICKED, SHOCKINGLY EVIL AND VILE captures how this college educated man used his innate affability - and incredibly persuasive skills as a detestable liar - to form trusting bonds with people, but where the film comes disturbingly short is in portraying this man as a merciless psychopath. 

Not helping matters is how the overall narrative has very little in the way of flow and editorial discipline.  The script is simply all over the proverbial map and haphazardly segues from one time and place to another, which has the negative side effect of feeling like a rushed production that's itching to get to Bundy's trial.  The media circus surrounding it is undeniably gripping, especially for how Bundy's fame sickeningly increased (for all of the wrong reasons) and how a single TV camera showed the world a portrait of this madman that many people - women in particular - misinterpreted as an innocent victim being persecuted (because, gosh darn it, he sure was hunky and approachable...and how could a handsome man commit such acts?).  But that's also part of the larger issue with EXTREMELY WICKED, SHOCKINGLY EVIL, AND VILE: It becomes so committed to showing Bundy in all of his Svengali-like appeal during these proceedings that it kind of loses focus in the real tangible and relatable human element in the film, which is Liz's whole tortuous ordeal she faced during all of this.  Bundy's flourishing fame as his trial proceeds overshadows and dilutes Liz as a character her, which is a fundamental creative mistake.   

Generally speaking, this film completely loses sight on allowing Liz and her unfortunate ties with Bundy to be the main focal point arc, but instead wallows on the killer, his sensationalistic trial, and how the court of public opinion seemed to alarmingly weigh in on his side of false virtuousness.  Liz was a completely innocent woman that became psychologically and perhaps irrecoverably damaged by the weight of knowing that she allowed this mass killer of women into the her and her young daughter's lives.  That's absolutely frightening.  EXTREMELY WICKED, SHOCKINGLY EVIL, AND VILE does a huge disservice to her and other female characters presented within.  The key specifics of who Liz is, where she came from, and how her and Ted courted each other is just sketchily developed, and her whole character on paper eventually and mournfully devolves into one-note survivor guilt stereotypes (which is sad, because Collins is quite authentic and natural here with an egregiously underwritten character).  Kaya Scodelario also appears in an even poorer written role as one of Bundy's girlfriend's that was blindly loyal to him until the very end.  We also learn almost nothing about this woman; for all intents and purposes, she's a crude plot device and not a fully realized person here. 

I haven't said too much thus far about Efron as Bundy, who wouldn't initially be my ideal choice to plausibly inhabit the sadistic mind of a serial killer.  He certainly looks the part (he's a decent dead ringer for Bundy, although the real Bundy didn't look as carved out of granite as the former HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL star).  Efron also gives a commendably restrained performance of creepy and slimily nuance.  I bought Efron as Bundy the charmer, but not so much as Bundy the fanatical fiend, and his performance and the screenplay doesn't really dig too deeply into inner psychology of what made this lunatic...tick.  Odder yet is that director Joe Berlinger has already crafted a heavily watched Netflix documentary series about Bundy, which begs the question as to why he would want to helm a skimmed over and lacking in true substance drama about this kidnapper, burglar, rapist, killer, and necrophile.  Bundy sure fooled all of his victims, but EXTREMELY WICKED, SHOCKINGLY VILE, AND EVIL didn't fool me with its own empty minded dramatic pallor tricks.   

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