Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile (an obnoxious and slightly misleading title) is a true story about Ted Bundy told from his longtime girlfriend Elizabeth Kloepfer’s perspective, as her seemingly sweet and charismatic lover is accused of various heinous crimes. I wasn’t expecting much out of this film post-festival runs, as it got a lukewarm reception from a lot of critics, but the one constant, Zac Efron’s much-discussed powerhouse performance, kept me excited to check it out nonetheless. I’m happy to say that overall, the film is pretty great; not perfect, but Zac Efron is absolutely outstanding. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
Starting with the character Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile is framed around, Lily Collins is great as Kloepfer. She has a heavy burden in this film, because there’s a point where Liz becomes quite upset, and she maintains that demeanor for a good chunk of the movie. Collins manages not to make the relentlessness of that emotion a problem, and she sells every moment of it. Contrast those scenes against the warm happiness of some of the earlier ones and her outstanding final scene with Efron, and you get a really strong lead performance, one that has, sadly, been overshadowed by Efron. Speaking of which, Efron is (as I stated previously) stellar as Ted Bundy. He disappears into the role in my eyes, and there was never a moment where I thought about Efron on screen; he was just Ted Bundy. He nails the vibe of that man, the charisma and the likability, as well as the monster hidden behind that veneer. It’s a wonderfully detailed and layered performance because there’s a key scene where I could honestly see two different emotions running through Bundy’s face at once, of complete emotional breakdown and callous unfeeling. It’s CRAZY good. The supporting cast is also great, with Jim Parsons turning in the best work I’ve seen from him as the prosecutor, and John Malkovich does a great job as the judge presiding over Ted Bundy’s final trial. The standout from the supporting cast is actually Haley Joel Osment as one of Liz’s co-workers who becomes great friends with her. He’s a character that brings a sense of warmth and heart to scenes when things get truly dark towards the end of the film. Osment does a great job being strong, yet lovable in a movie that calls for so much darkness, and he never felt out of place to me.
Narratively, I’m surprised by how much I appreciated the viewpoint Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile went with. I’ve seen people criticize the film for trying to make Ted Bundy out to be either glamorized or treated as if he really might be innocent through a good chunk of the narrative. The movie is based on Kloepfer’s memoir, written under a pseudonym, titled The Phantom Prince: My Life With Ted Bundy, so for the most part, the film very much is from her perspective. For a good chunk of Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile, we see Bundy as she did, so it’s less that he’s being portrayed as if his guilt is in question, and more so realistically looking at how Liz viewed the man. She thought, and hoped against all odds, that Bundy was innocent and that these charges were faked because she was in love with him, and her child loved him. However, even in scenes where they’re “questioning” his guilt, you can always see this undercurrent of darkness and evil in Bundy’s eyes. For us, and the way the narrative is being crafted and shown to us by director Joe Berlinger, his guilt isn’t a question; its a certainty. The most surprising drama of the film is watching Kloepfer’s slow realization that the man she loves is a bonafide monster, with their final scene as the exclamation point for it.
I also want to point out to anyone expecting brutal violence – or, honestly, any visuals of the murders – that you will find virtually none of that here; it’s very much about the two main players and the trial. Joe Berlinger does a pretty good job lending a cinematic style to the proceedings, and it’s a generally good looking film, while nothing spectacular. When Berlinger attempts to spice things up visually, however, it really sticks out and took me out of the movie. He filmed a typical conversation scene with a rotating shot, but instead of it being seamless, there are multiple cuts during the rotation, which felt really jarring to me visually. Otherwise, it’s a solid looking film. I think Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile falters a bit when it comes to some of the editing, though. We jump around quite a bit, through several decades, without too much transition. I wasn’t too bugged by it, but it’s definitely worth mentioning. I still found myself going along for the ride during the film and only realized it upon thinking back on the movie.
Is this a must-see film? There’s no new information presented here, and if you’re looking for a comprehensive rundown of Ted Bundy’s heinous crimes, this isn’t the movie for you. You’re better off seeking out the (amazing) documentary, also by Joe Berlinger, that is on Netflix as well. It gives you a great insight into Bundy and his crimes in a very engaging fashion, and it’s really detailed. If you’re okay with just seeing a solid film with great performance and an interesting viewpoint on the events and the man, definitely give Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile a go. Efron’s performance alone is worth the price of admission, and Collins is also fantastic. I found that, despite its shortcomings, it consistently held my attention, and I definitely see myself revisiting this film sooner rather than later.
How did you feel about Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile (thankfully the final time I have to type that damn title)? Let me know in the comments below! Stay nerdy everyone!