‘Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile’ is not set out to humanize or explain how and why Ted Bundy killed all the women he was found guilty of murdering. From the first two scenes alone, this biopic — based on the memoir ‘The Phantom Prince: My Life with Ted Bundy’ by Elizabeth Kendall, who was Ted Bundy’s live-in partner for quite a long time — sets out to paint us a picture of a woman in the early 70s, a single mother, who fell in love with a handsome, charming man, who was then accused of murder and sent her world spiralling.
The film, directed by multi-awarded documentary filmmaker Joe Berlinger, avoids the sensational reenactments of the heinous crimes and instead focuses the film on just what Elizabeth, called Liz, actually knew. This is not the story of Ted Bundy, the serial killer, but the story of a woman, who has to somehow rationalize that she has lived with a man, who may or may not have killed women just like her.
The film begins with Liz visiting Ted in jail and a short exchange leads us into a recollection of their first meeting and their love story. Lily Collins and Zac Efron are magnetic as Liz Kendall and Ted Bundy, and quickly establish the couple’s intense bond. But as Ted is caught by the police for suspicion of aggravated kidnapping and assault and is imprisoned while awaiting trial, Liz enters a deep depression.
Much of the story of this pair is told separately as Liz is barely holding on, her suspicions growing, as she is following the trials on the television and receiving calls from Ted. On the other hand, we see Ted’s point-of-view from prison, insisting on his innocence and, as a law student, working on his defense with his lawyers.
The film never reveals what we know now in the present. Focused completely on Liz’s point-of-view, it creates a believable scenario of the possibility of Ted Bundy’s innocence but it even goes further than that. It captures how the women at the time were so fascinated by the case, implying that Ted Bundy’s handsome appearance were getting in the way of people’s perceptions.
And with the added character of Carole Anne Boone (played wonderfully by Kaya Scodelario), a friend of Ted Bundy from before, who believes in him whole-heartedly that the film becomes more than just a film about one of the most famous serial killers of America (and the first televised trial in the United States, which also plays prominently in the film). The film touches upon how appearances can be deceiving and that many monsters look like ordinary people, and many of them are quite good-looking.
This makes the casting of Zac Efron such a brilliant move. From ‘High School Musical’ to ‘The Greatest Showman,’ Efron is without a doubt a gorgeous man and carries with him this sense of being a nice guy. As Bundy, he is charming and he knows it. But it is also something he switches on, as some scenes manages to capture him calculating his next move.
Collins, on the other hand, is a lovely study on a person’s breakdown as she struggles with all the conflicting thoughts that plague her. At some point in the film, she’s barely a shell of a human being and Collins exudes this tortured interior world. It’s a rather stunning piece.
And in the final moments, after the film has gone through the crazy, unbelievable (but factual) events of Ted Bundy’s trial, Efron and Collins has a spectacular confrontation that truly underlines the narrative’s profound truth.
This is not a movie about a serial killer. This is a movie about women and how we can all be fooled by charm and appearances. It’s a story about regret and guilt and, in a way, release. The film’s timeline spans from 1969 to the 80s but these problems are pervasive even until now. These acts of violence against women that are performed by men, often people we would never expect, are still rampant today. And we can be fooled by appearances. It has been said many times that “the devil is a charming man” and ‘Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile’ humanizes this dark truth.