Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile (2019)
When most think of what a film about Ted Bundy would be like it seems pretty obvious, a brutal psychological thriller that shows the horror this man brought to his victims. Yet director Joe Berlinger sets out to make a very different film here. Instead of focusing on his crimes he pays almost no attention to the crimes themselves and instead tries to paint Ted Bundy in almost an innocent light. He never directly says one way or another if he is guilty but rather sets the story up from another perspective that doesn't automatically assume that Bundy was guilty and that he might even have been falsely accused by law enforcement. This is certainly a bold and interesting direction for this movie to take and I was willing to give it a chance to see if it could pull off this extremely difficult task. Unfortunately, it didn't quite work as well as I imagine they wanted it to.
That isn't to say that they failed at making him seem like he was possibly innocent because they do accomplish this. There were times where I legitimately was curious about the evidence against him, mostly because they didn't share this. Maybe it really bothered me only because I don't know a ton about the factual evidence used in the case but they do not share almost any of it in this film which makes its effect feel cheap and unnatural. Sure when you only talk about the weak evidence it seems like a weak case and if that is the only evidence then your narrative feels worthwhile. When you obviously lead out key details not only does it make the impact of the film lessen but it also makes no sense. Instead of making me interested in the case that they build in this movie I felt more interested to get the full story and learn what actually happened.
Easily the best part of this movie and really the saving grace of it is the acting in it. Zac Efron has been getting tons of hype from his portrayal as Ted Bundy and it easily is deserved. Looking back over Zac Efron's career I realized that I have not been impressed with a lot of what he has done so this is easily a standout. He sinks into this role of the charismatic Ted Bundy and is not only good at the likable sides of his characters but also the darker sides. Due to what the director was going for Efron has to be subtle in his darker moments yet it makes it almost more chilling. There are small things he does throughout the film that add a level of almost a feeling of danger to his character. From constantly thinking about his situation and assessing every little aspect of it to when he breaks his nice guy persona and gives a death stare that is truly terrifying. If there was going to be anyone to be in this movie as Ted Bundy, Zac Efron is the perfect man for it.
Where everyone is focusing on his performance even past Zac Efron the performances in this film are really good. Where they are not award worthy as one could argue with Efron people like Kaya Scodelario do a great job at bringing the delusional obsession so many had with Bundy. Lily Collins also does this to a point as she deals with learning about who Bundy was after being so close to him but I always felt like I was waiting for that one big scene to push her performance over the edge into something great. We keep coming back to her and it seems like her character is going to have that big moment but as the story draws to a close I couldn't help but feel like her character never got the payoff she deserved. There were others like Jim Parsons and Haley Joel Osment who had good performances but didn't get a solid introduction or really any development to be notable overall especially as they were clearly overshadowed in scenes with Zac Efron. This movie definitely had the tools to be something really special with great performances and an interesting premise. I just wish they could have figured out a way to create their desired narrative in a way that didn't feel so forced and fake. It failed to connect because it never feels authentic which is a huge miss for this type of story. It doesn't take away from the performances or directing which I would also say is pretty strong but it does take away from the overall impact of this story. Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile could have been an all-time classic and if someone else wanted to take a crack at this story I would be really interested in it, but for now, this is overall forgettable in execution.