“Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile” is a Netflix original crime biopic about serial killer Ted Bundy. It is directed by Joe Berlinger, who also created the documentary series “Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes.” Rather than focusing on the grotesque nature of Bundy’s crimes, as one might expect from the title, the film centers around Bundy’s relationships and the impact his various trials had on them.
In 1969, divorced single-mother Elizabeth “Liz” Kendall (Lily Collins) meets aspiring law student Ted Bundy (Zac Efron). They share some tender moments before she brings him home, expecting him to run when he discovers she has a daughter. Instead, Ted seems to tenderly care for her and her child.
The movie jumps to 1975 when Ted is pulled over by the Utah Highway Patrol and goes on trial for the first time, charged with multiple murders. Soon, Bundy is transferred to Colorado, where he is accused of even more grotesque crimes. Liz stands by Ted, but the horrific reality of the situation drives her to alcoholism. Liz tries to move on, but frequent letters and phone calls from Bundy keep her connected.
In 1978, Bundy is arrested in Florida, and the shocking and famous trial for the murders and assaults of the Florida State University Chi Omega sorority house begins. As Bundy battles the prosecution and the court, the public watches with some openly cheering for the accused murderer. Meanwhile, Liz watches with bated breath, even as more gruesome evidence comes to light.
Berlinger chooses to skip over whole portions of the serial killer’s story, focusing instead on some key moments of his criminal life. His troubles in Utah, his escape from the Colorado authorities, and finally his trial in Florida. In-between, the director uses Bundy’s relationship with Kendall as a bridge.
Casting Zac Efron in anything other than Disney television films and trashy comedies is always a risk, but in this case, it paid off. Efron turns in an excellent performance as Bundy. While he doesn’t look much like Bundy, he nails his speech, his walk, and his mannerisms. One of the most chilling scenes is when Bundy interrupts Florida authorities reading his indictment; Efron handles the moment with skill and nuance.
Lily Collins does a satisfactory job as Kendall. While her portrayal is a bit muted at times, she manages to make you feel her growing grief and shock in discovering the man she loves is in fact one of the most prolific serial killers in the world.
Jim Parson delivers a short but excellent performance as Florida Prosecutor Larry Simpson. As he prosecutes the case, he expertly conveys his growing frustration at Ted’s courtroom antics and his drive to see justice for the victims. His opening and closing statements contain the gravitas of a prosecutor who knows he is tasked with taking down one of the most evil men in American history.
The title, “Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile,” prepares viewers for a horror film replete with torture and gore, but this turns out to be a false expectation. While the film does contain some tense scenes, the movie instead unsettlingly draws you in with Bundy’s charm to the point where you start to feel empathy for him, though Berlinger makes clear the killer shows no empathy for his victims.
Check out the trailer below: