Of all the serial killers out there, Ted Bundy is definitely the most wicked, evil & vile of them all. A cold-hearted, sadistic sociopath who exploited his good looks & charismatic flair to lure victims before brutally murdering them, he was the very definition of evil who caused an immense loss of life and left nothing but scores of cadavers in his wake until his ultimate capture, incarceration, trial & execution. Just the details of his crimes and what he did to those young, beautiful women are so violent, shocking & gruesome that it’s too much to fathom. Yet, the fact that he still managed to garner a surprisingly strong female fan following doesn’t come off as baffling, disturbing or surprising at all.
After all, despite the horrific acts he committed, Ted Bundy was no less than a celebrity in the eyes of the media, one who would provide them the ratings they were salivating for. His trial was the first televised hearing in the United States history and if you have seen the footage then it isn’t difficult to grasp the fact that he absolutely enjoyed being the centre of attention & would do anything to keep the spotlight on himself, including sabotaging the efforts of his defence team. Add to that, he knew how to present himself on camera. He was already good-looking. He dressed well. He was resourceful. He also had a sense of humour. But most of all, he always tried to be in charge of the situation.
If you are looking for an interesting but informative account of Ted Bundy’s crime spree, then the docu-series Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes is as good an option as any. It is already available on Netflix, surfacing earlier this year and it narrates the entire set of events in chronological order without skipping on disconcerting details, not to mention that it’s also far more engaging than Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile despite both films being directed by the same filmmaker. The problem with the latter is that it is a watered down version of Bundy’s life that is told from the perspective of his first girlfriend. The plot mainly focuses on their rocky relationship and the trauma of his trial on her life.
Directed by Joe Berlinger, the story is narrated in non-linear order but the arrangement adds nothing of substance to the plot, plus following the events chronologically wouldn’t have hampered the overall experience by any means. Contrary to its brooding title, there is nothing wicked, shocking, evil or vile about it. The grisly crimes are barely mentioned & his savagery acts are rarely shown as Berlinger attempts to paint a glamorous portrait of the infamous serial killer, kidnapper, rapist, burglar & necrophile. He doesn’t glorify his crimes nor does he portray his persona in a positive light but instead captures Bundy through the eyes of his girlfriend. And though there is nothing wrong with that, the story is rather generic, stale & fails to keep the interest alive.
It is only in the final 15 minutes or so that the film begins to get its act together but it’s a long, arduous & at times frustrating journey to get there. Everything unfolding before it is one jumbled mess, thanks to the fractured editing that’s unsure of what tone to settle with, thus resulting in a disjointed narrative that never for once grabs our emotions. Still, the film manages to recreate its timeline in fine detail with era-appropriate set pieces & costumes, and a lot of the courtroom segments are downright precise in resemblance to the real-life footage. There are several interesting details that the film decides to not use, and then some that it unnecessarily creates for dramatic purposes. The final interaction is powerful but its effect wears out sooner than expected.
What saves this film or at least makes it captivating enough for viewers to sit through the entirety of it is Zac Efron’s charismatic rendition of Ted Bundy. He not only looks the part but he plays him with alarming accuracy and the cold stare of his eyes are spine-chilling. This is easily the finest performance of his career so far and the versatility & range Efron showcases here is only a sign of better things to come from him. Lily Collins, on the other hand, fails to intrigue us in her role of Elizabeth ‘Liz’ Kendall, Bundy’s first girlfriend and chips in with a passable input. Kaya Scodelario is splendid as Carole Ann Boone and even John Malkovich does well as the judge presiding over the trial. Still, the film as a whole is nothing but Zac Efron’s show and he does his best to steer it past the finish line.
On an overall scale, if you don’t know enough about Ted Bundy & the stomach-churning crimes that he committed during the 1970s, you may still find something of value in this dramatisation but in case you are well-versed about his life like I am, then you may be in for a disappointment. Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile certainly benefits from Zac Efron’s irresistible act but the film also fails to live up to its name as it refuses to dig its fangs deeper than the surface to genuinely engage, unnerve & alarm us. An underwhelming feature after a compulsively watchable documentary, Joe Berlinger’s latest attempts to show us the warm side of Ted Bundy with a hint of devilry brewing beneath, possibly the same thing that many of his victims saw before breathing their last, but the poor, unfocused & half-baked execution results in an end product that’s as pedestrian & forgettable as most films to come out of Netflix canon.