Zac Efron is certainly enjoying himself in Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile. Sexy serial killer is definitely in his wheelhouse, and Efron goes for broke, hamming it up as the infamously charming Bundy. Unfortunately, take a step back from his showboating and you’ll see an ugly film hiding behind the charms of its lead.
The only two female characters are stripped of any dignity. Elizabeth Kloepfer (Lily Collins), Bundy’s ex-girlfriend, has her agency kept at arm’s reach, reserved for a third-act twist meant to simultaneously empower her and justify the previous 90 minutes of crying on the sofa. Meanwhile Bundy’s second wife Carole Ann Boone (Kaya Scodelario) only exists as Bundy’s mouthpiece and baby wagon. Parallels between these two simmer below the surface, hinting at a better film that explores their parallel lives rather than the killer that united them. Wicked is supposed to be based on Kloepfer’s own memoirs, but director Joe Berlinger sidelines her story in favour of Efron’s freewheeling antics. Instead, Kepler’s journey is told through the state of Lily Collins’ wig in any given scene.
As we reach the trial and John Malkovich turns up, ready for a farce, we reach so-bad-it’s-good territory. But this is when Wicked plays what it thinks is the ace in the hole – letting loose the gory details – and we’re reminded that this schlocky parade was all too real for the dozens of women who were raped, brutalised and dismembered by Bundy.
Is it compelling? Yes. Insightful? No. Respectful? Absolutely not. Wicked treats Bundy’s acts of terror as tantalising tidbits, teasing us with the gory truth. There’s a fascinating critique up for grabs in Bundy’s case, America’s first TV trial. Berlinger could have pulled that thread, but he’s content to let Zac Efron dance to the silent voices of 30 dead women.
CAST: Zac Efron, Lily Collins, Kaya Scodelario, Angela Sarafyan, Sydney Vollmer, John Malkovich
DIRECTOR: Joe Berlinger
WRITER: Michael Werwie
SYNOPSIS: A chronicle of the crimes of Ted Bundy from the perspective of his longtime girlfriend, Elizabeth Kloepfer, who refused to believe the truth about him for years.