It kills me to say it, but this Ted Bundy movie is deadening
‘Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile’ adds nothing new or interesting to the serial killer’s story
Activist documentarian Joe Berlinger has over the past two decades established himself as a filmmaker with a conscience whose work has had significant effect on the real world. His series of films on the case of the “West Memphis Three” helped to overturn the conviction of the wrongfully convicted killers.
His most recent documentary work was a Netflix four-part series, Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes, centring on the explosive revelations of guilt made by the serial killer shortly before his execution in 1989.
Now Berlinger has used material from the documentary series to produce a confusing, uneven and unnecessary fictional feature companion, Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile, on the events leading up to Bundy’s capture and conviction. It fails to offer anything new or interesting to Bundy’s story.
Bundy’s case is complicated and decades long, but Berlinger’s film drops viewers straight into the 1970s when he was living with girlfriend Elizabeth Kloepfer (Lily Collins) and became the justifiable if not originally obvious main suspect in a series of killings of young women around the US. Using a documentary style of dipping in and out between time periods, Berlinger’s fictional recreation suffers from an inability to focus on any of its characters long or hard enough to endear empathy from its audience.
Although Zac Efron does some delicate work in the role of Bundy, there’s little here to engage with or lead us to greater understanding of Bundy and his motives for the 30-plus murders he eventually admitted to shortly before his execution. While the enigma of Ted Bundy has always been his good looks and charm, the film fails to delve into the details of his crimes and tries to situate the story within a tragic lovers’ arc between him and Kloepfer that doesn’t manage to carry the story.
The film, much like Bundy’s own explanation for his innocence and persona, is heavy on surface but thin on depth. That’s in spite of Efron’s performance, the best takeaway from a messy, muddled, and unfocused attempt to turn history and reality into compelling fiction.