First published Saturday 4th May (2019)
Ted Bundy was one of the most notorious serial killers of modern American history. Viciously murdering and raping over 30 women that we know of during the 1970s. However, during much of that time, Bundy had a female partner. A woman who has often been sidelined as a victim of his manipulation, multiple personalities and deadly charm. Loosely based on the book The Phantom Prince: My Life with Ted Bundy, Joe Berlinger brings us a film that aims to explore the deceit and lies inherent in Bundy’s persona. Alongside his ability to charm his way into people’s lives, homes and beds. However, Extremely Wicked has a tough job in ensuring Bundy does not become the centre of attention. The reality of his horrific crimes needing to remain precise. While also bringing new insight to the table for the film’s audience.
Unfortunately, while managing the former, the film is less clear on the latter. With a narrative that doesn’t fully allow Bundy’s female partner Elizabeth Kloepfer (Lily Collins) to take centre stage. In a film that should have been about her own experience and dark awakening.
However, Berlinger’s choice of Zac Efron as Ted Bundy is inspired, as the role subverts Efron’s own charming, boyish and attractive persona. Something especially astute when considering how Bundy himself played with image, sexuality and charm. The result is a disarming and often uncomfortable viewing experience that takes us to the heart of Bundy’s ability to manipulate and control. While at the same time, demonstrating Bundy’s ability to charm those who accepted him on face value. And its here where Efron gives a career-defining performance; placing Bundy’s personality centre stage and reflecting the complexity of his psychological manipulation and individualistic self-protection. A performance that ultimately steals the film, creating one of its biggest successes while also emphasising its biggest failure; the lack of focus on Bundy’s female partner and her daughter.
Thankfully Extremely Wicked never sinks into horror film territory by showing Bundy’s crimes. And this is to be commended as the film opts to focus on Bundys ability to drive his agenda while snaring people into a trap of perceived innocence. Asking the audience to focus on the personality traits that led many to defend him right up to his conviction.
In this respect, Extremely Wicked succeeds in building a visual study of the complexity and deceit inherent in the man. However, the narrative lets down Elizabeth Kloepfer; sidelining the opportunity to explore the complexity of her love for Bundy. And while we gain glimpses of her journey to enlightenment; this journey is incomplete in structure, emotion and psychological assessment. Once again leaving Bundy in the spotlight.
In conclusion, Extremely Wicked needed a longer running time to fully achieve its vision; balancing Bundys persona against the awakening of Elizabeth. And despite an incredibly strong performance from Efron. Elements are missing in ensuring the reality of Bundy’s crimes and manipulation of others is explored in full.
Director: Joe Berlinger