Starring: Zac Efron, Lilly Collins, Kaya Scodelario, Haley Joel Osment, John Malkovich, Jim Parsons
When choosing to devote a staggering amount of attention to one of the most notorious and sadistic serial killers in popular culture, perspective is crucial. Warning bells ring with threats of glamorisation, before then raising concerns about gratuitous violence and the risks of such audacious storytelling.
Ethical concerns then give way to questions of conceit and vanity – who will be brave enough to give such atrocity a platform, and who will manage to use it valuably? Who can really make any of this living nightmare?
Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile seems to have considered every risk of misguided perspective, and yet still never quite escapes the shackles of Ted Bundy’s sickening allure. The feature film comes a few months after director Joe Berlinger’s detailed study of the murderer, with his Netflix limited series Confessions with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes.
This feature promises a wider perspective: Extremely Wicked takes its name from the rightfully scornful words of Edward Cowart, the presiding judge who sentenced Bundy to death; the story is based on The Phantom Prince: My Life with Ted Bundy, the memoir written by Bundy’s long-term girlfriend Elizabeth Kloepfer; Bundy isn’t speaking directly to the camera as he does in the tapes, rather, a jack-in-the-box replica of the performative psychopath is brought to life by Zac Efron.
Such weighty context shouldn’t matter so much, and for a while, as the movie theatrics performed by such theatrical movie stars zip along thrillingly, it doesn’t. Every performer is go-for-broke committed.
Zac Efron and Jim Parsons in Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile
Efron fills his role with Machiavellian charm, basking in the seductive narcissism of Bundy without losing sight of his inherent cruelty. He woos Lilly Collins’s Liz, to the point where she quickly fades from the focus of her own story in order to gaze back at him. One woman tag-teams in another one, as Kaya Scodelario (Remember Skins?) scrambles in to play Carol Anne Boone, Bundy’s wife who had his daughter while he was on Death Row.
The tug of war between Bundy’s crimes (thankfully, mostly left to the viewer’s imagination) and the fascination felt by everyone around him becomes more painful in retrospect. As Efron harnesses his astonishing strength as a performer, Bundy’s personality takes control of the narrative. This leaves every other player, even those as cartoonishly convincing as John Malkovich and Jim Parsons, struggling to keep up. In terms of a viewing experience, what feels gripping during the film's runtime tastes a bit more sour once the credits have rolled.
Each warring ingredient – from the unbelievable real words that scripted Bundy’s self-led trials, to the devilishly good performance Efron has crafted – increases the enjoyment of such unthinkable events. The perils of love, lies, loyalty, manipulation and murder are all thrown up in the air, and tossed around with forceful verve.
But the pitfalls become deeper when these colossal ideas hit the ground and simply fall flat. Extremely Wicked does little with the dangerous material to either challenge or warn an audience of the underlying sadness such self-absorption can inflame. His victims are named, Liz's words are spoken, but this is always Ted's story. Zac Efron is outstanding. But at what cost?
|What||Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile review|
03 May 19 – 03 May 20, TIMES VARY
|Price||£ determined by cinemas|
|Website||Click here for more information|