Continuing Joe Berlinger’s year of Ted Bundy, Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile is Berlinger’s second Bundy relate project of 2019, following the four-episode documentary released earlier this year. Starring Zac Efron as Bundy and Lily Collins as Bundy’s love interest; Liz Kendall. For those unfamiliar with the story, Ted Bundy was a serial killer, active during the 70s and 80s, whose trial was the very first nationally televised trial in United States history. The fascinating aspect of Bundy’s story is the incredible contrast between the gruesomeness of the crimes he was accused of and his own persona. Bundy was famous as a charismatic, charming, friendly man who couldn’t possibly be guilty of the unspeakable crimes with which he was being charged. The story is told predominantly from the perspective of Bundy’s longtime girlfriend, portraying his story from the point of view of an invested third party.
I was very much looking forward to this film. I’m absolutely fascinated by the Ted Bundy story, he was this ridiculous enigma that leaves so many questions unanswered even after his confession to only the murders we know about. I’m also a huge Zac Efron fan (yes, I am an HSM fan. Back off.) and I’d heard some rave reviews of his work. My expectations were absolutely met, as Efron delivers a performance conveying every inch of Bundy’s infectious charm and downright innocence. Until late in the film, you don’t actually get an obvious stance from the filmmakers on Bundy’s innocence or guilt. Watching it, I found myself conflicted in much the same way those who watched the trial at the time likely felt, an effect which comes by way of some first rate work from Efron and some occasionally very strong writing. Lily Collins, while perhaps not equal, does a fine job in the communication of the depths which Bundy’s situation leaves her in. While her actions in calling Bundy in at the very beginning have never been appropriately justified to me, her desperation and emotional turmoil really hits home.
The film makes a point out of the juxtaposition of Ted’s external nature and the nature of the crimes he was charged with, and it’s affecting. I’ve seen a little bit of Berlinger’s Netflix documentary on the same topic earlier this year, admittedly not all of it, which I found a little bit dull. This film does not suffer from the same lag, exuding a brooding, suspenseful energy. The factual basis helps, however, with much of the film’s dialogue ripped straight out of sound bytes from the events themselves.
The main issue I had with the film was that intentions were often given less importance than description. Many a times you’d see action on screen that didn’t make intuitive sense. There probably were reasons, they just weren’t expanded on as they could have been. Threads were often left loose and motivations left unexplained for the purposes of moving the plot forward. In the context of a biopic, this might not be a crime, but I’m honestly not certain that’s what this film is. The perspective is too skewed, maybe too impassioned, to qualify as a traditional biopic. From a historical perspective, not necessarily a problem. But, from a narrative perspective, it just leaves one wanting.
I greatly enjoyed this film. I’ve read some articles detailing explanations of controversy. Some see the ambiguity in the way Bundy’s guilt is depicted as an insinuation that Bundy could have been innocent. I can see where that interpretation comes from, I wouldn’t go as far as to say it’s misguided, but I definitely don’t agree with it. The ambiguity, while potent, serves the purpose of communicating the ambiguity that weighed on the mind of the American public. The end of the film does what it needs to do in terms of making his guilt clear, so I didn’t really see a problem there. All in all, Efron’s striking performance was the driver in a film that fully delivered for me.
– Aman Datta
Aman’s Score – 77/100 Aryamaan’s Score –