In Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil And Vile, director Joe Berlinger offers an expertly executed, if tonally flawed biopic which stars Zac Efron as one of America’s most notorious serial killers, Ted Bundy, and Lily Collins as his long-suffering former girlfriend Liz Kloepfer. Bundy, who went on to murder over 30 women in the most sadistic fashion during the 1970s, maintained his innocence throughout his multiple court appearances, before eventually admitting to some of the killings and being executed for his crimes.
The film opens with Bundy (Efron) meeting single mother Liz (Collins) at a bar in the late 1970s where the young woman is immediately charmed by his undeniable magnetism and apparent bonhomie. Believing him to be the knight-in-shining-armour she has been waiting for all her life, Liz falls head over heels for Ted who is soon invited to move in with her and her daughter Molly.
Things take a strange and creepy turn when Bundy is arrested in connection with a kidnapping in Utah, but Liz is convinced that it’s just a case of mistaken identity even when the evidence starts to stack up against the man she loves. Having spent a lifetime lying and manipulating people, Bundy becomes an expert at deflecting accusations, and when he is sentenced to prison for aggravated assault, he publicly sacks his lawyer and decides to represent himself. Soon his antics in court start to grab headlines and an army of female admirers who can’t help but be charmed by his oratory skills.
Joe Berlinger presents a narrative which appears to be unsure about what story it wants to tell. Offering Bundy as a jovial, almost comedic, figure who captivated court audiences during a televised trial in Florida, the film also appears to mostly focus on the relationship between him and Liz, whilst forgoing the chance to highlight the suffering he caused to his victims and their relatives.
Aesthetically, Berlinger who also directed the Netflix documentary series Conversations With A Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes, handles every period detail with impressive ease and undeniable expertise with some sequences lifted almost entirely straight out of the docu-series to give it a more authentic feel.
Taking on an impressive physical transformation for what could be the role of a lifetime, Zac Efron impresses greatly throughout. Those of us who have been fans of the actor since the days of High School Musical, always knew him to be capable of much more than he’s had to contend with in recent years. For her part, Lily Collins does her best with a character that has undeniably been served very badly by a deeply flawed screenplay. She offers Liz as rather timid and subdued, but beyond that, there is very little substance to her own story arc.
Overall, despite its ill advised tongue twisting title, Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil And Vile presents an expertly told and decidedly engaging storyline, even if it fails to advance the original story beyond what we already knew about it.