It’s hard to think of Zac Efron as anything besides the basketball playing heartthrob we all had pictures of plastered on our prepubescent bedroom walls — but if anything can make you see him differently, it’s Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile.
The movie isn’t a horror film, despite it being centered on one of the most notoriously evil people in history. There’s no gore, and the visuals of Bundy’s horrific murders are kept to a bare minimum; rather, it focuses on the man himself.
What makes Extremely Wicked unique is that the story is told through the perspective of his longtime girlfriend, Elizabeth Kloepfer. Scenes that you’d assume would be his slashings are instead images of him dancing in the kitchen, laughing, and being, well, “a normal guy.”
Instead of depicting Bundy’s heinous crimes, it answers the question, “How could anyone date a man who murdered 30 women?” — which is exactly what differentiates him from the rest of history’s notorious serial killers.
From the start, you understand the extent of Bundy’s charm — sleeping next to Liz instead of with her, and waking up and making her and her daughter breakfast instead of rushing out. He can convince a cop who pulled him over to let him off with a ticket, and can convince his girlfriend that even though his mugshot was plastered on the front of every newspaper in their area, that he hadn’t done anything wrong.
But Bundy’s allure is immediately juxtaposed with the monster that he is. Images of him with Liz and her daughter are interrupted with flashes of him in a police lineup and in an interrogation room. Viewers already know Bundy is guilty, so there’s no use spending time explaining that to the audience. The more interesting part is that Bundy’s deception allowed him to trick people — even himself — into believing he was innocent, and that he could work a crowd so well that even his own murder trial fell victim to his charm.
Instead of depicting Bundy’s heinous crimes, it answers the question, ‘How could anyone date a man who murdered 30 women?’ — which is exactly what differentiates him from the rest of history’s notorious serial killers.
The movie is successful in telling the story of Bundy’s psyche. During his televised trial (the first one in U.S. history), he works the crowd — which is filled with young women who are literally fans of him, despite him being on trial for murdering two women. He didn’t portray himself like a rambling nutcase like Charles Manson, nor did he spend his free time dressed up like a clown like John Wayne Gacy — he was manipulative and deceptive enough to make people like him and think of him as the charismatic guy next door. This is the most terrifying part of Bundy, and what Extremely Wicked nails: that a serial killer doesn’t always have the telltale signs or the antisocial persona — in this case, he just seemed like a regular guy.
Extremely Wicked also portrays how frustrating Bundy was. During his trial, he clung to his innocence and denied any wrongdoing with every fiber of his being. He waited until days before his execution to finally confess his guilt, which put dozens of family members of his victims through even more hell — but despite that, he still got a woman to marry him while he was on trial.
This is the most terrifying part of Bundy, and what Extremely Wicked nails: that a serial killer doesn’t always have the telltale signs or the antisocial persona — in this case, he just seemed like a regular guy.
When news of the film and Efron’s casting in it was initially released, much of the internet was in an uproar over the fact that one of the most romanticized actors of the decade was going to be playing one of the biggest monsters in history — but that’s exactly the point.
Bundy was attractive, charming, interesting, and likable. The reason he got away with so much of what he did was because of those qualities, and Efron was the perfect choice to play him. He’s far from the “We’re All In This Together,” frat-boy roles that we know him for. The icy look in his blue eyes is eerily similar to Bundy’s — and when he’s wearing a tight turtleneck and dark, wavy hair, they actually look alarmingly alike.
Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile tells Ted Bundy’s story from a new point of view. Choosing to tell it from Elizabeth Kloepfer’s perspective helped it to successfully avoid any rehashing of what we already know: that Ted Bundy is a monster. By showing him as how he was perceived by those around him, it added layers of interest and new information that a predictable, bloody biopic wouldn’t have.
Whether you know every detail of his crimes and binged Confessions of a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes when Netflix released it, or know literally nothing about him or his crimes at all, you can enjoy this movie just the same.