There’s been a lot of recent chatter about the upcoming film Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil And Vile, a movie about serial killer Ted Bundy. Its official teaser debuted a few days ago followed by the film’s premiere at the 2019 Sundance film festival and now, the first reviews are out.
“Extremely wicked, shockingly evil and vile” were the words Judge Edward D. Cowart used to describe Bundy’s crimes from the 1970s. The film is directed by veteran documentary maker Joe Berlinger, who also directed the Netflix documentary series Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes.
The film is a dual portrait of Bundy and his longtime girlfriend Elizabeth Kloepfer (Lily Collins), the former’s life told through the perspective of the latter up until the moment Bundy is strapped to the electric chair.
Bundy confessed to sexually assaulting and killing 30 women in Washington, Oregon, Colorado, Utah, and Florida between 1974 and 1978. Despite his confessions, it is believed he is responsible for even more deaths.
His case, though undeniably horrifying, was highly-publicised because of Bundy’s charming and intelligent nature.
Efron told The Hollywood Reporter: “I think the movie itself is really deep. It doesn’t really glorify Ted Bundy. He wasn’t a person to be glorified. It simply tells a story and sort of how the world was able to be charmed over by this guy who was notoriously evil and the vexing position that so many people were put in, the world was put in.”
Bundy has since been the subject of countless films, books, and series – the most recent being the Netflix series and Extremely Wicked.
A majority of first reviews praise Efron’s performance as Bundy. Collider declared Efron’s acting as “the best performance of his career thus far.”
On Rotten Tomatoes, the film – at the time of writing – holds a 65 per cent rating from 17 critic reviews, 11 fresh and six rotten.
Collider wrote: “While it doesn’t quite click fully into the gear it’s aiming for, it touches upon some fascinating notions of human nature and boasts a truly impressive performance from Efron.”
They continued: “No doubt many were worried a film like Extremely Wicked would attempt to glorify or justify Bundy’s crimes, but the film does no such thing. Instead, it’s a fascinating look at the confounding contrast between Bundy’s seemingly genuine affection for Elizabeth and the inhuman and sickening acts he perpetrated against dozens of other women.”
The AV Club described Efron as “very good”. If the movie remotely pulls off its perversely un-perverse experiment in withholding, he’s the reason: Never letting the mask slip, keeping Bundy’s darkness concealed just below the surface, Efron really makes you believe that someone could fail to recognize the wolf he kept draped in sheep’s clothing.”
However, in their opinion, the film did not nail perspective and seemed to be more of a recreation of archival footage than anything else. AV Club also disagreed with Collider, suggesting that Berlinger’s decision to focus more on Bundy’s facade “risks minimising his evil.”
The Guardian gave the film three stars, praising Efron’s “remarkably accomplished, fiercely committed performance.”
In a nutshell: “The star’s charismatic and creepy performance as the notorious serial killer is the best thing about an otherwise pedestrian and graceless drama.”
Variety described Efron’s performance as “startlingly good: controlled, magnetic, audacious, committed, and eerily right.”
In my judgment, “Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile” is an honestly unsettling and authentic inquiry into the question of who Ted Bundy was, how he operated, what his capture and trial and ongoing infamy has meant, and what, if anything, his existence tells us about our individual relationship to toxic evil.
The Hollywood Reporter‘s bottom line: “Efron delivers in this energetic account of serial killer Ted Bundy.”
Vulture, though a fan of Efron’s performance, did not like the film. They believed it brought nothing new to the table and was just a recreation of sensational events.
“If the narrative film only exists to give us the unsettling sliminess of Efron as Bundy, it won’t be a total waste. But it’s not much of a movie, either.”
John Malkovich, Brian Geraghty, Jim Parsons, and James Hetfield of Metallica co-star.