DIFF Film Review – Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, and Vile
Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, and Vile
Joe Berlinger is widely known as an acclaimed film documentary producer and director with credits like The Paradise Lost trilogy, Iconoclasts, and Whitey: United States of America v. James J. Bulger. Berlinger recently focused his work on the serial killer Ted Bundy. He produced and directed the documentary series Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes which started streaming on Netflix in January 2019. This four-part series uses Bundy’s own words to illustrate his life and crimes and is filled with information people may not be aware of or remembered about Ted Bundy.
Berlinger expanded his examination of Ted Bundy’s life with a biopic, Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, and Vile, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and Netflix picked up the film to debut on its platform. The film’s title comes from what the judge in his final jury trial in Florida called Bundy’s crimes. It is partially based on the book, The Phantom Prince: My Life with Ted Bundy by Elizabeth “Liz” Kendall. The film starts with quick flashes between the last meeting of Liz Kendall (Lily Collins) and Ted Bundy (Zac Efron) and the first time they met. The film quickly progresses through Ted in a seemingly ordinary relationship with Liz and a father figure to her daughter. The film then picks up with his pursuits in Utah and Colorado, not focusing much on his crimes around the Seattle area.
Zac Efron comes off as charming as the real Ted Bundy sans the unibrow. One thing that this film did correctly is that you never see Bundy commit any of the crimes of which he is accused, at least not until the very end of the film. Efron never has to transform into this sinister person entirely, and the scary thing about this is that it makes it entirely possible to believe he is innocent. It keeps the focus on Bundy’s relationship with Liz, his undying proclamation of innocence, and his many escapades of avoiding the law and imprisonment, not on the specificities of the crimes he committed.
This film sets itself apart from other documentaries and films about Ted Bundy by making this also about Liz’s relationship with Bundy. Conversations with a Killer did not spend much time on Liz’s relationship other than it is an anomaly in his life of killing women, and she was not interviewed in the documentary. Extremely Wicked makes Liz a second main character, juxtaposed with Ted’s escapades and court appearances. She holds out hope for Ted, believing in his innocence, yet condemning herself to a life of guilt for pointing a finger early on. This guilt drives her to alcoholism and depression. It presents a weird dichotomy of Ted and Liz. Ted is a horrible person but can present himself charismatically to the public with seemingly no remorse. Liz is an innocent person and an upstanding citizen, but because of her relationship with Ted, she becomes destroyed from within.
Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, and Vile is a CliffsNotes version of the documentary series Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes. Having both come from Joe Berlinger, there are obvious similarities with the storytelling and what parts of Ted Bundy’s story were kept in the biopic. The significant difference between the two is the full inclusion of Liz’s story into Extremely Wicked. Because this is an adaptation of both a true story and Liz’s book, I can’t say what part of Liz’s story was fictionalized and broadened to make her the main character. Suffice it to say if you want a more in-depth look at Ted’s history, watch the documentary series. It was interesting to see the cast of supporting actors portraying these real-life people after having seen the series with some coming nowhere close in resemblance to their counterparts. Joe Berlinger stepped out of his comfort zone and made a decent biopic. The revelation of what Bundy is capable of in the last few minutes of the film had the most impact, sending an icy chill down your back. Unfortunately, it would have been a different film to see Efron’s Ted depicting all of his crimes. I understand the creative choices that Berlinger made for Extremely Wicked, but there will be viewers that will wish for it to have been something different and lamenting the gritty film they expected to see.