Sundance Review: 'Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, and Vile' Might Just Describe Its Own Fans Directed by Joe Berlinger
Starring Zac Efron, Lily Collins and Haley Joel Osmont
Published Jan 31, 2019Thanks to primetime procedural shows, podcasts and a general sense of dread, mass murderers have, strangely, become the new rock stars. It's undoubtedly a great time to be a fan of killing, but is that really okay? Aren't we all becoming a little too desensitized to homicide? These questions are not really addressed by the Ted Bundy comedy (?) Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, and Vile, but they're important nonetheless.
Directed by Joe Berlinger (who's still trying to top the madcap genius of his Metallica doc Some Kind of Monster), Extremely Wicked is a bizarre Bundy biopic that fails to reach any of the extremes in its title. Instead, it's a loose and strangely fun dramedy that focuses on camp and stunt casting (yes, James Hetfield plays a cop) instead of serious character analysis or gritty brutality.
To be clear, everyone is rooting for Zac Efron. Since High School Musical, his pivot to adult actor has included a plethora of wacky comedies that have demonstrated just how likeable he can be. And while there is a manic energy behind his grimace, Bundy's deep-set evil is more of an afterthought in this film. Perhaps Efron is just far too hot to play such a cruel villain.
The film is framed around Bundy's relationship with his fiancé Liz (Lily Collins). Perhaps we're meant to be kept in the dark as she was, but his dozens of brutal murders are mere hints until the film's third act. As such, the severity of Bundy's actions — which include the rape, murder and dismemberment of dozens of young women around America — is greatly understated.
Instead, the film plays out like one of those campy Ryan Murphy FX series or, worse yet, I, Tonya. It's a weird new subgenre where real-life tragedies are played out like campy soap operas, and Extremely Wicked is the worst offender. After all, it takes countless brutal murders and strings along a tapestry of jokes without ever really digging into Bundy's haunted psyche. In fact, we find ourselves cheering him on as he makes daring escapes from different prisons.
The film does hint at the fact that Bundy's charisma made him a sort of folk hero in his time, but does little to unpack that fact. Instead, Extremely Wicked bolsters Bundy as a protagonist, giving him plenty of likeable lines. It's a fun movie to watch, and it really shouldn't be.