Sundance Review: Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile

Score:  B

Director:  Joe Berlinger

Cast: Zac Efron, Lily Collins, Haley Joel Osment, John Malkovich

Running Time:  108 Minutes

Rated:  NR

With a title like that, and a slick trailer, it would be easy to think that this Ted Bundy biopic glamorizes the handsome serial killer, relishing in the grisly details of his crimes and subjecting its audience to horrific recreations of his murders. But this isn't The House That Jack Built, and it sure as hell ain't Zodiac either. This is just a solid, straightforward biographical film. The only people it will shock are the small group of people who don't think Zac Efron is a gifted actor.

It's now the perfect time for this film, at least for whichever distributor picks it up. Many of Efron's diehard fans are now the women who obsessively listen to My Favorite Murder and watch docs like The Ted Bundy Tapes on Netflix (also directed by Berlinger). Efron is extremely charismatic as Bundy, which he has to be. His looks and charm are part of the reason he was afforded luxuries men accused of less heinous crimes never got.

In the first half, the film tries to keep its focus on Liz Kendall (Lily Collins), Bundy's longtime girlfriend, and how the accusations tear apart their relationship, even as Bundy claims he was just in the wrong place at the wrong time, and later that he's being framed. It's an interesting tactic, but it's one the film abandons as Bundy's trial in Florida begins. Until that final death row confrontation, Collins only pours herself large drinks and sleeps on the couch in her bathrobe. Haley Joel Osment and Angela Sarafyan (Westworld) show up to encourage her, but it gets repetitive quickly.

Extremely Wicked is much more fascinated by Bundy, which isn't surprising, since the nation was intrigued then and now. His was the first nationally televised trial, and while some of the scenes of Bundy peacocking in the courtroom seem outlandish, footage over the end credits reveals these were pretty faithful recreations. John Malkovich plays Judge Edward D. Cowart, whose title was a description the real judge gave to Bundy's crimes. His stunt casting worked, though I'm less convinced by Jim Parsons as Florida Prosecutor Larry Simpson.

Joe Berlinger made a deliberate choice here, not to let this become sleazy exploitation. There's only one scene of violence on-screen, and it's critical for helping Liz understand just what a monster Ted really was. As the audience, we already know everything, so nothing here is a revelation. Instead, we've got an entertaining and engaging film that's not disrespectful to the victims. Some directors would probably kill to pull off something like that.


About Kip Mooney

Kip Mooney
Like many film critics born during and after the 1980s, my hero is Roger Ebert. The man was already the best critic in the nation when he won the Pulitzer in 1975, but his indomitable spirit during and after his recent battle with cancer keeps me coming back to read not only his reviews but his insightful commentary on the everyday. But enough about a guy you know a lot about. I knew I was going to be a film critic—some would say a snob—in middle school, when I had to voraciously defend my position that The Royal Tenenbaums was only a million times better than Adam Sandler’s remake of Mr. Deeds. From then on, I would seek out Wes Anderson’s films and avoid Sandler’s like the plague. Still, I like to think of myself as a populist, and I’ll be just as likely to see the next superhero movie as the next Sundance sensation. The thing I most deplore in a movie is laziness. I’d much rather see movies with big ambitions try and fail than movies with no ambitions succeed at simply existing. I’m also a big advocate of fun-bad movies like The Room and most of Nicolas Cage’s work. In the past, I’ve written for The Dallas Morning News and the North Texas Daily, which I edited for a semester. I also contributed to Dallas-based Pegasus News, which in the circle of life, is now part of The Dallas Morning News, where I got my big break in 2007. Eventually, I’d love to write and talk about film full-time, but until that’s a viable career option, I work as an auditor for Wells Fargo. I hope to one day meet my hero, go to the Toronto International Film Festival, and compete on Jeopardy. Until then, I’m excited to share my love of film with you.