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Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile (Sundance Review)

Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile (Sundance Review)
6 10

PLOT: Single mom Elizabeth Kloepfer (Lily Collins) is swept off her feet by a handsome, charismatic stranger (Zac Efron), only to be shocked when he’s arrested in connection with several murders. His name: Ted Bundy.

REVIEW: People can’t help but be fascinated by serial killers, with them reliable fodder for documentaries, films and in the case of Ted Bundy, two being made at the same time by the same director - Joe Berlinger. With his doc series, “Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes” already streaming on Netflix, it would seem like a no-brainer for the service to pick this one up, with it being an entertaining examination of Bundy’s dual life and eventual trial. Yet, EXTREMELY WICKED, SHOCKINGLY EVIL AND VILE falls short of excellence, with it often feeling like a high-end TV movie, with its big selling point being how radically against type Zac Efron is cast.

Indeed, it’s easy to see why Bundy is clearly such an object of fascination for Berlinger, with him a handsome, charismatic, sharp-witted type that one would never peg as a killer. This is what made him such a deadly murderer in the first place as he was able to get women to trust him. Efron is smart casting in the lead, if certain things, such as a scene where he strips to reveal an impossibly shredded physique, seems ridiculous for a part like this. He’s always been a good actor and he’s clearly relishing the opportunity to stretch, and it’s his performance that ultimately makes this something of a must-see.

That said, the movie itself is only average. It’s often inconsistent, starting off as more from Lily Collins’s character, Elizabeth Kloepfer’s, perspective, which is an interesting approach that allows us to see Bundy’s home life, as he tries to pass for normal, but this is eschewed midway through. From there it becomes more of a straightforward account of his trial, with her becoming a peripheral character as it becomes the Zac Efron show, although given his performance I suppose that’s fair.

Through it all, EXTREMELY WICKED, SHOCKINGLY EVIL AND VILE is often fascinating, with Bundy’s truly a stranger than fiction story. In addition to Efron, Collins gets a good role as Kloepfer, while Kaya Scodelario disappears into her part as another of Bundy’s steadfast girlfriends. Jim Parsons is also cast against type as the dogged Florida prosecutor trying to convict Bundy, with John Malkovich is excellent as the sharp-tongued, theatrical judge in his media circus trial. Even Metallica’s James Hetfield has a small role, with the band having long been associated with Berlinger’s work.

In the end, EXTREMELY WICKED, SHOCKINGLY EVIL AND VILE is a solid movie about Ted Bundy, but it falls short of excellence, and never transcends the docudrama genre. It’s good enough to recommend, and Efron’s fans will no doubt be blown away, but walking out of it I couldn’t help but find it a tad inconsistent and shaggy, although I’ll admit my next Netflix binge will be Berlinger’s Bundy doc.

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