2019 SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL: The fascination with serial killers is undeniable. Movies, television series, heck, even entire networks are devoted to the matter. But, few get the attention that Theodore Robert Bundy, a.k.a Ted Bundy, has received in the last few decades. Netflix is banking on that fascination continuing. The streaming giant has announced the purchase of “Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, and Vile” a few days after its Sundance Premiere. This movie will be a suitable companion to its ‘Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes.’ But, more on that later.
The film stars Zac Efron as the notorious Ted Bundy. But this story isn’t his. No, it belongs to Liz, his longtime girlfriend played marvelously by Lily Collins. The film is supposed to be from her point of view, her side of the story if you will. Based on her book titled “My Phantom Prince: My Life with Ted Bundy.”
The story starts in Seattle in 1969 just as the couple meets. She’s a single mother out with her bestie at a bar. He is a creepy guy who picks her up at a jukebox. Bingo Bango, fast forward 4 minutes and the two are feeding her little girl at a breakfast table. The only thing missing from this picturesque setting are cartoons on the television and a newspaper neatly folded on the table. Never mind the fact that Ted is holding an unusually large knife.
The years pass on the calendar into the mid ’70s and through a few states in the west part America. Soon Liz is appalled to find that Ted has spent a night in jail in another state for a crime he denies. This would be a common theme throughout their relationship. He gets accused, he denies, Liz picks up a drink. In no time at all, they will find themselves in a courtroom fighting for Ted’s freedom.
The speed by which this part of the story is told is enough to give the audience whiplash. Even more still is the absolute disregard and avoidance of the crimes of which Bundy would be so well known for. Not one crime scene. Not one instance. Not one frame of film is devoted to Bundy’s depravity. Apart from one picture in the third act, there is complete avoidance of Bundy’s crimes.
This may be due to the fact that the film’s director, Joe Berlinger, also helmed the Netflix series ‘Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes.’ No, it wasn’t planned that way. At least that’s what he would tell the audience at the film’s premiere at Sundance. “I wish I could say that it was part of some master plan, but both projects just sort of fell into my lap. The timing just worked out,” said Berlinger.
For his part Efron would tell the crowd at Eccles theater, “I’ve seen more of it now, the Ted Bundy tapes from Netflix, then I was ever privy to before. I didn’t want to get to close to doing an impersonation and be stuck trying to impersonate someone I had only seen on tape. I am pleased we had similar mannerisms.”
Whatever Efron did worked. He is surprisingly good in this role. He goes past the Disney bubblegum machine that has packed his bank account. Efron is nothing if not solid in this role. But, if Zac is good, Lily Collins is better. She is remarkable in the role as Liz. She would admit to spending time with the real-life Liz. Even getting a chance to see and hold actual love letters that Ted penned to Liz. It was an experience she wouldn’t soon forget.
The performances in “Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile” are so far superior to the story that it’s disappointing. It also stars Haley Joel Osment, Jim Parsons, and John Malkovich. They are good, yes, but the execution of the story is that bad. With ever-shifting perspectives throughout the film, and a complete disregard for who Ted Bundy it’s a shame that this ended up being just north of a mediocre film.