Film Review: Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile

This is one of those odd movies that features a really great performance which is unfortunately lost in a fug of mediocrity. Zac Efron shows off his dramatic chops as notorious serial killer Ted Bundy, and creates a compelling and charismatic performance. He nails the superficial charm that Bundy used to hide his dark nature, and does a very good job of showing flashes of the cold and calculating character he hid.

Efron is the beating heart of the movie, and dominates the screen time, which is odd given that the film is based on the memoir of his ex-girlfriend Liz Kendall, played by Lily Collins.

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There’s probably a great film to be made about a woman dealing with the fact the man she loves is actually a serial killer. A woman having to deal with growing doubts, feelings of guilt that she should have spotted something sooner, fear and relief, the negative reactions of others, the impact on her future relationships, it’s all good stuff. Unfortunately, even if this movie had pursued this angle Collins never seems up to the challenge, delivering a painfully shallow and unremarkable performance. She never engages as a character, possibly because we don’t get to see her enough before Bundy, and so the entire story we’re told about her revolves around her erstwhile lover.

Liz stands by Ted at first, but eventually severs ties, although he continues trying to contact her. With Bundy’s trial becoming big news she watches the broadcasts and bulletins obsessively, and slides towards alcoholism. The problem is that these scenes play out between Efron’s moments as Bundy and Collins never hooked me in the way he does. It’s like they never fully commit to Liz’s story. We just see her staring intently at the TV or saving newspaper cuttings, and it would have worked better had she had more scenes where she talks or narrates about how she feels. “Show don’t tell” is the familiar refrain in screenwriting, but you have to do one, and this film often does neither.

It’s odd that while Efron is the best thing in this movie, the movie would have been better with less of him.

The focus on Liz really falls away in the final stages as we deal with Bundy’s trial, and aside from a bookend narrative device, her story is rendered the least interesting part of the story.

There are different ways to tell a serial killer story- a thriller as the cops close in on a suspect; a trial where the audience is never entirely sure of what the truth really is; an insight into the twisted mind of a killer and why they became the monster they grew into or one about the impact of their actions on the individuals in their orbit, which is what this halfheartedly tries to do.

It lacks the thrill of the chase. It shows restraint in the dealing of the crimes, stopping it from being one of those ‘can’t look away even though you want to’ movies, and while Efron shows the different sides of Bundy, and the way he manipulates others and played up for audiences, it never delves deeper. We never learn why Ted started killing women. We don’t know when it started.

It’s a distinctly lacklustre movie, interesting enough as you watch it, although you realise it’s limitations at the same time. Efron is very strong as Bundy, but you feel in a way that his performance and the story they initially try to tell don’t work. The filmmakers should either have told Liz’s story, keeping Bundy in the background, or made it all about Efron’s performance, but they seem unable to choose, and the film suffers as a result.

The ’70s soundtrack is pretty good though, and as someone who doesn’t know much about Bundy’s crimes it did interest me. But on the whole, it just feels a bit flat and muddled. Efron alone can’t quite carry it, and Collins is unconvincing and uninteresting as the female lead.

Verdict: 4/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.

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