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Zac Efron Becomes Ted Bundy In “Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, And Vile”

What is the fascination with Ted Bundy? The infamous serial killer has long captured the attention of the masses, largely due to his charisma and attractiveness. So, it does make sense that a movie star would want to play Bundy. Coming as a companion piece to the Netflix documentary series Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes, this week brought a narrative take on the man with Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, and Vile. Both are on the streaming service and both are helmed by Joe Berlinger. Unfortunately, while there’s a compelling lead turn here, there’s ultimately nothing to be learned about the killer, making for an empty experience.

The film is a biopic/crime drama about the notorious serial killer Ted Bundy (Zac Efron). In part told through the eyes of Liz Kendall (Lily Collins), a single mother and Ted’s girlfriend, we watch as they meet, date, and find a strain in their relationship when the authorities come for him. At first, it seems like just a misunderstanding, but soon more and more accusations are leveled against Ted. Is he a murderer? He assures Liz that he isn’t, but something doesn’t fully sit right with her. While Ted is being put on trial, escaping various jails, and trying to stay close to Liz, she finds the weight of his likely crimes destroying her from the inside. The aforementioned Berlinger directs a script by Michael Werwie, adapting Kendall’s book. In addition to Collins and Efron, the cast includes Dylan Baker, Jeffrey Donovan, Brian Geraghty, James Hetfield, Terry Kinney, John Malkovich, Haley Joel Osment, Jim Parsons, Angela Sarafyan, Kaya Scodelario, and more. Brandon Trost handles the cinematography, while the score is done by Marco Beltrami and Dennis Smith.

There’s a missed opportunity here. Zac Efron is often brilliant as Ted Bundy, but the film doesn’t quite know what to do with him. The performance is compelling, yet done in the service of something without a point. Berlinger does seem to want you to fall under Bundy’s spell, to see what may have gotten him so close to all these women, but it rings hollow. There is a tremendously effective scene at the very end of the flick, which could have been the basis for a stronger overall work, but it’s merely a tease. It comes too little, too late to make a difference.

Watching the two new Bundy works back to back may provide something extra for dedicated viewers. At the same time, that doesn’t help this film. Pairing together Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, and Vile with Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes would give you more coloring to the life of the man. It won’t, however, elevate this movie beyond being an interesting failure. Hardly bad, it just never takes it to the next level where you’re fully engaged. Efron does his best to paper over those issues, and he comes close, but this is ultimately a bit of a misfire.

Overall, Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, And Vile is a disappointment. Now available to stream on Netflix, it works as a curiosity, but as little more than just that. Efron fans will almost certainly delight in seeing him stretch like this, while those who are crazy for Bundy likely will feel the same way. If you’re indifferent, however, that indifference will permeate the entire experience. The title is said by a judge late in the film, but honestly, you never get that sense. It plays things too safe to leave an impact. The movie could have used some of that shock, quite frankly…

Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, And Vile is streaming now on Netflix!

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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