Director: Joe Berlinger
Starring: Zac Efron, Lily Collins, Kaya Scodelario, Haley Joel Osment, John Malkovich, Jim Parsons, Dylan Baker, Angela Sarafyan, Terry Kinney
Written by Michael Werwie and (based on the book “The Phantom Prince: My Life with Ted Bundy”) Elizabeth Kendall
Running Time: 110 mins
Release date: 3rd May 2019
The fascination with notorious serial killer Ted Bundy has reached fever pitch recently with the release of the documentary, Conversation with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes and now Extremely Wicked, Shocking Evil, and Vile, which takes as its source material, the book from the woman who he spent most of his life with, Elizabeth Kendall,. Sadly, coming after the full documentary, apart from two terrific lead performances, this is a pale addition to the story, especially if you’ve seen the former. Ironically, both were directed by the same man.
The late 1960s and single mother Elizabeth Kendall has been bought to a bar by a friend where she meets Ted Bundy, a charming man she falls for but is fearful that he will run when he realises she has a child. Proving differently, their relationship grows. Yet Elizabeth doesn’t know about Ted’s secret life as he is arrested in another state for assaulting two girls. Over the years, Bundy is detained for further crimes and escapes prison, but Elizabeth cannot help but stay by the side of her man.
Director Joe Berlinger seems a little obsessed with the Bundy story, having directed the documentary, using archive footage along with the recordings of the killer, he has decided to take another stab, this time from the woman who thought knew him best. The first part of the film this seems an interesting angle, showing Bundy as a kind man who takes her daughter under his wing, becoming almost her natural father. When he starts disappearing, leaving the family to commit his crimes, the film ditches her side of the story and shows flashes of his criminal world. This is where the film is less successful.
With such a notorious serial killer, the film comes across quite tame. The idea that this was never an exploitation movie is perfectly fine, but the way the film is directed seems more like we should be sympathising with the man instead of hating him. The courtroom scenes play out as if he is an innocent man, where the evidence and his treatment by the police are played out, so everyone is against him apart from Elizabeth and a former female friend, Carol Anne Boone. We, the audience, know his guilt and yet Berlinger wants us to believe he isn’t a vile and evil man who committed such horrific murders but a gentleman who could charm the pants off anyone.
Sadly, the film flits from one scene to another and feels very disjointed. Parts of the film have been lifted from the footage used in the documentary, most famously when a local sheriff plays out his arrest in front of the cameras. Bouncing around from the source material to the scenes we know exist from the documentary never delivers an even film while at the same time leaving the viewer slightly cold towards the characters.
The cast does an excellent job with the material. John Malkovich as the judge Bundy comes up against at the end and who delivers the line that gives the film its title, is on fine form and doesn’t look like he just turned up to collect his cheque, while Jim Parson, Sheldon from the Big Bang Theory, is allowed to show his real acting chops as the prosecuting lawyer. In the role of Elizabeth, Lily Collins shows a woman who cares so much for this monster and yet is left confused by the events and a tormented battle between believing his innocence and hating him. It’s a nicely tune performance.
In the lead, Zac Efron is the film’s triumph. The former teen idol uses his natural screen charisma to create a man who you would trust and yet there is this dark and dangerous side, while Efron manages to pull off, always returning to that gentler side. The film wouldn’t have kept your interest if it wasn’t for Efron’s towering performance and hopefully this will lead to the actor getting better roles in the future.
Extremely Wicked is a very uneven movie that, if you have seen the documentary, you may be very disappointed with. If you haven’t seen the original film or know little of Bundy, you may get something out of it. It’s worth watching for Efron, but it may leave you cold.
The film is getting a simultaneous cinematic release as well as being screened on Sky Cinema.