NETFLIX / SKY CINEMA (2019)
Director: Joe Berlinger
Starring: Zac Efron, Lily Collins, Kaya Scodelario, Angela Sarafyan, Jim Parsons, John Malkovich, Haley Joel Osment
Zac Efron is murderously handsome.
This take has nothing to do with Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile (named after the presiding judge’s indictment of Ted Bundy), however, it is relevant as many people used to believe the same of Ted Bundy – America’s most prolific serial killer. There’s something about serial killers that captures the public imagination which is fairly awful the more you think about it and Bundy had that appeal. He had the looks and charm that put him squarely in the ‘clearly not a serial killer’ category, but looks can, of course, be deceiving – as can casting choices.
The decision to cast Efron in the lead role raised eyebrows, not least because this was a few notches away from what he is best known for. His looks came into question (and body, for some reason), however, when you think about it – no one thought Bundy capable of his heinous crimes, so who would suspect Zac Efron could play a serial killer? Well, the good news is not only does Efron play the role, he kills it (pun…possibly intended?). There’s something chilling about his portrayal and he manages to capture Bundy’s effervescent charm excellently (and, at times, looks freakishly like the man himself) – he makes us believe that women would be enchanted with him, even to the point of crazed, alcoholic denial. It’s not quite Anthony Hopkins-Hannibal Lector chilling, but still, he is very good. The movie itself is seen more from the eyes of Bundy’s long-time girlfriend Liz (also played excellently by Lily Collins) and how the years and awful revelations take their toll on her, rather than just showing Bundy on a murder spree, which I found to be a more compelling take than just blood, slashings and death. John Malkovich appears as the aforementioned judge and is slightly more restrained Malkovich, but still...Malkovich whilst Kaya Scodelario is effective in the role of Carol Ann Boone – the girlfriend of Bundy whilst he was imprisoned in Florida.
There was controversy beforehand as to whether the movie would romanticize Bundy and, to an extent, it doesn’t, but there are moments when you want Ted to be on-screen as he is the most engaging part – plus there are clear moments where we are almost invited to root for Bundy (including a courtroom escape). Though the movie is written well, Extremely Wicked seems to paint Haley Joel Osment’s sympathetic character as the predator of the story which at times seemed to fly in the face of the movie's intent. Thankfully, Berlinger doesn’t simply sycophantically fawn over an evil killer, and restraint is shown which is to the movie's benefit. Another thing Berlinger does well is not to tell the story of Ted Bundy – the case is internationally well-known and recognised and what we didn’t need was an origin story of sorts. Instead, knowing what we already know, the movie is allowed to take on a greater edge because of it. As Efron charms his way through the movie, there’s no hint of the monster behind his eyes because the movie doesn’t show it – there are no graphic murder scenes (bar one moment) – and it’s this quality that sheds the most light on Bundy’s reputation. No one thought to look for something that wasn’t noticeable.
You won’t necessarily learn anything new from watching Extremely Wicked – check out Berlinger’s Bundy documentary, Conversations With A Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes, for a more in-depth look – but for its runtime, Extremely Wicked remains compelling and, yes, provides an engaging insight into one of nature’s strange curiosities – the serial killer. Less bloody than some and more interesting than most, Efron delivers a career-best performance in what is a very good movie.
May 4th 2019