Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, and Vile (2 stars)

Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, and Vile

Zac Efron turns in a bravura performance as serial killer Ted Bundy in this otherwise unsatisfying biopic

The popularity of true crime entertainment has been exponentially rising over the last five years, with season one of the Serial podcast setting it off in 2014 and Netflix's Making a Murderer continuing the trend the year after. Investigating injustice or learning more about the psyche of perpetrators has been the predominant focus, with little time spent examining the lives of the, mostly, female victims. The recent Jordan Peele-produced documentary series Lorena turned the tables by talking directly to a female survivor of abuse, setting the record straight following her own notorious crime. Now director Joe Berlinger returns to the Ted Bundy murders for a dramatised take (following his four-part documentary on the subject), approaching events from the point of view of Bundy's initially oblivious partner, Elizabeth Kendall (Lily Collins).

The film is based on Kendall's memoir, alongside Berlinger's research for his Netflix series, Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes. However, it fails to strike a good balance between giving Kendall a strong enough voice, considering it's her story, and showing off the bravura impression of Bundy by Zac Efron, as he acts out in a courtroom setting. Viewing Bundy from Kendall's blinkered perspective is a potentially interesting move but it's one that doesn't pay off, as the film expects the viewer to forget the confessions of an infamous killer – which rob the film of necessary tension.

It posits Kendall as another one of Bundy's victims, dying a slow death at the hands of his lies and manipulation, with her coping mechanism hitting the bottle. However, her alcoholism is unsubtly handled and the film never draws a convincing portrait of a woman who fell for Bundy's charm and truly believed in his innocence. Berlinger's documentary does a better job of allowing a woman to speak her truth, thanks to an interview with Carol DaRonch, who literally escaped Bundy's grasp when he tried to kidnap her.

General release and on Sky Cinema from Fri 3 May.

Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile

  • 2 stars
  • 2019
  • USA
  • 1h 50min
  • 15
  • Directed by: Joe Berlinger
  • Cast: Lily Collins, Zac Efron, Angela Sarafyan

The story of Ted Bundy (Efron), told from the perspective of his initially oblivious partner Elizabeth Kendall (Collins). It fails to strike a good balance between Kendall’s voice and showing off Efron’s bravura Bundy impersonation, expecting the viewer to forget the confessions of a killer, which rob the film of tension.