Following the success of “The Ted Bundy Tapes: Conversations with a Serial Killer,” director Joe Berlinger is back with his latest Netflix film May 3, which features Zac Efron as the notorious serial killer.
Efron’s casting as the titular role in the film, “Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile” didn’t come without controversy. Many movie-goers were concerned that Bundy’s incredibly violent history would be romanticized as a result of casting Hollywood’s hottest bachelor.
The initial critics’ assumptions inevitably ended up being true. Efron is incredibly convincing as Bundy, so it’s impossible to separate the actor from the serial killer. Normally that would be a compliment, but his performance isn’t one you can get lost in, a la Meryl Streep. It’s hard not to chuckle when the camera pans over expertly recreated family photos of Bundy and his longtime girlfriend Elizabeth Kloepfer.
The beginning of the film intercuts harsh, serious court scenes with long, passionate love scenes between Bundy and Kloepfer. The overall tone remains inconsistent throughout most of the film.
I was left feeling confused. There is little to no violence portrayed, which was odd for a movie based on the life of a serial killer. A part of me agrees with the point of view director Berlinger chose to take. Violence against women is often times sensationalized and subsequently normalized in our modern day media landscape. In the #MeToo era, haven’t we seen women suffer enough?
Another part of me felt like audiences lost out on not seeing Bundy do any actual killing. As a result, by the end of the film, I was unsure whether or not I was expected to be sympathetic with Bundy and the atrocious crimes that he committed.
The empathetic narrative of derives from the fact that “Extremely Wicked” was based on a book by Kloepfer, “The Phantom Prince: My Life with Ted Bundy.” For the casual viewer without prior knowledge of that fact, one might interpret the film as an apologetic piece centered around the vindication of Bundy and his crimes. The film sets Bundy up as a “nice guy” who was a victim of his own circumstances.
That being said, I questionably enjoyed the film. If you’re anything like me and you’ve stayed incredibly thirsty for Zac Efron since his early days on the Disney Channel, then you’ll be pleased with watching him in just about anything. My jaw hit the floor when he stripped down to nothing within the first 20 minutes of the film.
Did I enjoy this scene? Absolutely. Was this scene necessary? Absolutely not.
The film really aims to hammer home the fact that Bundy was a “handsome” criminal. It’s not an exaggeration to say that all of the featured female extras exchange longing glances with Bundy at every turn. From his courtroom convictions to his escape from prison, this film doesn’t want you to forget that Bundy was a hit with the ladies.
While seeing other women fangirl over Efron feels normal, it’s unsettling once you remember that this teen heartthrob is playing a man who raped and killed nearly 30 women across the country (possibly more).
It’s important to remember that sometimes, what we might enjoy isn’t inherently “good” and what’s “good” isn’t inherently entertaining. We should remain critical of what we consume as viewers, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t enjoy the occasional trashy misstep. While I don’t condone the tone of “Extremely Wicked,” I can’t lie about the fact that I still enjoyed it.