Ted Bundy was one of the most notorious serial killers in American history, second to Charles Manson, committing a series of grisly murders of thirty plus women in the states of Washington, Oregon, California, Idaho, Florida, Colorado, and Utah. His crimes were described by Judge Edward Cowart as “Extremely wicked, shockingly evil, vile, and the product of design to inflict a high degree of pain”, and he was executed in the Florida State Prison on January 24, 1989. Though he was a despicable human being with no regard of human life, what sort of separated him from other serial killers was how charismatic he was; no other person could take on the persona of Bundy like Zac Efron, an actor with enough charisma to carry a movie, which is exactly what he does in this scatterbrained biopic based on the memoir ‘The Phantom Prince: My Life with Ted Bundy’ by his former girlfriend Elizabeth Kendall (Portrayed by Lily Collins).
While there have been movies and documentaries on Bundy in the past, none have had more buzz than ‘Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile’, which had a world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival on January 26, and officially got a Netflix release on May 3. Though before its release, the streaming site distributed ‘Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes’ the same day ‘Extremely Wicked’ had its Sundance premiere. Though it helps to watch the four-episode documentary to get a better understanding of Bundy, those who do may be disappointed by the results. ‘Extremely Wicked’ does not go as in-depth or is as clean-cut as the documentary. I would still recommend watching ‘The Ted Bundy Tapes’ instead for a more intriguing watch as you will get a lot more out of it.
Being that it is taken from the point-of-view of Kendall, I can see why ‘Extremely Wicked’ has a problem with its focus. Yet it tries to juggle more-than-enough points as it cuts back-and-forth between the trial in which Bundy tried wooing his way out of the death penalty to an unimpressed Judge Cowart (John Malkovich in a humorous role), the moment Kendall first laid eyes on him in a bar, and a few instances where Bundy tried seducing some college girls as well as the times he has been pulled over for being a suspect, all without fleshing out what made Bundy so despicable to begin with; the pieces are all there, but all of Bundy’s screen-time is for show as it portrays him as a charmer and a funnyman than a vile serial killer. Besides one instance of gruesome murder, the only instances we see Bundy act off and uncaring are the times where he constantly calls Kendall over Henri Charrière’s beloved book ‘Papillon’ like a mentally-abusive/stalker boyfriend, or when he is hooking up with his friend Carole Ann Boone (Kaya Scodelario), who he later turns into his wife, in prison.
With all its flaws, Efron’s performance as Bundy is the saving grace. Like Bundy, Efron has enough charm and wit to keep you interested, but without the meat, ‘Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile’ serves as a less-than-satisfying dish.