True crime has always been a popular interest, but with the introduction of podcasts and streaming services offering an array of true crime documentaries, the fascination with what makes serial killers tick has only continued to climb. Ted Bundy, perhaps the world’s most infamous serial killer, still garners a lot of attention due to his high number of victims and his way of seamlessly disguising his monstrous tendencies with charisma and intelligence. Extremely Wicked, Shocking Evil and Vile, starring Zac Efron as Ted Bundy, released on Netflix on May 3. It was directed by Joe Berlinger, who also directed the Netflix documentary Conversations With a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes, which was released on Netflix in January of this year.
Several of our staff watched the film over the weekend, and two of our writers gave us their thoughts. See what they have to say below.
WARNING: Spoilers ahead!
Does the film hold up to the hype?
Britt – I saw a lot of, well, mixed hype surrounding the film. A lot of critics and people familiar with the murders were concerned that it would glamorize Bundy. And unfortunately, it seems that those fears might be right. The film rarely, if ever, delves into Bundy’s darkness. Instead, it stays superficially focused on how handsome and charming he was. It focuses on him charming his victims and charming his girlfriends, without then showing the actual murders and crimes he committed. I can see how maybe this was done to avoid feeling like they were exploiting the deaths of the women he killed. But the result is that you only see handsome, charming Bundy seducing women and then protesting his innocence. SPOILER: You only see one murder on screen. But what you do get to see is his bare butt during one of the sex scenes. It just felt very superficial and unbalanced.
Sydney – I was extremely worried about the rumors I heard prior to watching the film that stated it was romanticizing Bundy. While I do feel the film was at times playing a little too hard at Bundy’s charismatic side, I do not feel that it was the film’s intent to romanticize him. I do, however, feel that the film didn’t do a good enough job showing the dark side of Bundy, so there was no sense of balance, which made the performance feel more romanticized than it did charismatic. I understood that to a point, since the film is told from the point of view of his girlfriend, Liz Kloepfer, but I think it would have had a much more powerful overall impact had it shown the contrast between Bundy’s charisma and his darkness. The whole draw about Bundy was the fact that he was a handsome, clever man who led a seemingly normal life, but he was a monster in secret — the exact sort of person no one would ever expect to be a serial killer. Had the film delivered that balance, it would have had a much bigger impact.
How was Zac Efron’s performance?
Britt – He was fine. As I mentioned above, you only get to see one side of Bundy in the film. It would have been great to see Efron explore the darkness in Bundy, specifically his rage. But unfortunately, because of the way the script was structured, the audience never gets to see Bundy for the monster that he was. I want to see Efron get ugly. I am also extremely disappointed that the film chickened out and did not give Efron Bundy’s infamous unibrow.
Sydney – I was blown away when I saw the first photos of Zac Efron as Ted Bundy because, aside from the lack of unibrow, he looked almost exactly like him. Efron has long been cast in roles in which his good looks and charm are the backbone of his character, and so I was excited to see him play the part of Bundy that was dark and complex. It was disappointing that we only just began to see Bundy’s dark side by the end of the movie. Efron did play well into Bundy’s narcissism, portraying him in such a way that I was convinced Bundy truly thought himself innocent. I really would have been interested to see how Efron portrayed the monster Bundy really was — the side the media never really saw. Overall, the acting was not where this film fell short.
Does the film stay true to the facts?
Britt – Mostly, but it presents them in a very strange order. You don’t learn about any of Liz Kloepfer’s (played by Lily Collins) fears and concerns about him, or that she had a hand in setting the police on Bundy’s trail until the very end of the film. A lot of the most interesting (and buck wild) facts about the case were treated like after thoughts.
Sydney – It stayed pretty true to the facts as far as I could tell. The timeline is a little messy, so it would be difficult for someone not as familiar with Bundy’s crimes to follow. The beginning does a lot of jumping around, from Kloepfer speaking with Bundy in prison, to the night they met, to the night Bundy was arrested, and back to memories of their life together over the past several years.
What was the focus of the film?
Britt – The focus is definitely on Kloepfer (the script is based on her autobiography, The Phantom Prince: My Life with Ted Bundy) and Bundy’s various trials, and briefly, his prison breaks. The film is mostly told from Kloepfer’s point of view, with some cuts to Bundy in prison or on the lamb (or his relationship with Carol Anne.) The film really missed the mark here for me though, because it had the chance to show Kloepfer putting the clues together about Bundy (his VW Bug, the police description, his injury props, etc.), dealing with her fear that she was living with a serial killer, and taking the steps to call the police. Multiple times. It could have been a very taut thriller, and instead the film takes a more superficial look at their relationship — only showing the positive moments, even after his first arrest. It isn’t until the very end that Kloepfer tells her new boyfriend that she was responsible, and it feels like it comes out of left field because the audience only sees one side of their relationship. The film never spends any time developing the interior lives of both Kloepfer and Bundy, and the result is that it feels more like live action reenactments of a documentary strung together rather than a whole film.
Sydney – The film was told from the point of view of Bundy’s girlfriend, Liz Kloepfer (Lily Collins), and the focus definitely reflected that, with painting him as an innocent charismatic family man. Kloepfer does come to believe he is guilty, but we don’t find this out until the end of the movie, and as such, I felt very interesting and necessary aspects of their story weren’t told. All we saw of Kloepfer after Bundy’s arrest was her descent into depression which, again, felt like a waste of another talented actor’s skill. The film did largely cover the trial, which is the most we actually heard of Bundy’s crimes. One saving grace of the film was the incorporation of dialogue from the actual trial, which was chilling in itself, as well as the re-enacted interview scene, and infamous indictment scene, in which I felt Efron really shone.
True crime has always been a very popular interest. Do you think the movie will result in more people joining the true crime “fandom”?
Britt – Honestly, no. I think many of the other true crime documentaries (The Keepers, The Staircase, even the Fyre Fest documentaries) that are flooding Netflix and other streaming sites will do more for the genre than this film.
Sydney – I think and hope that this film isn’t what brings new people into the true crime “fandom,” since I wouldn’t consider it to be informative. My fear is that people will flock to the film because of the popularity of its star, and the fact that Bundy was possibly America’s worst serial killer will be completely lost on them. I think that the true crime “fandom” will largely reject this film as a good source of information, and I don’t see it being a film that would encourage anyone to become more interested in true crime. There are true crime documentaries available on several other outlets that provide more interesting and enlightening information.
Do you think the film does more informing or more entertaining?
Britt – I don’t think it does either? For a film about a handsome serial killer, it was actually pretty boring. Most of it was set up like either a rom-com or a romantic drama. It does present some of the facts about the murders during the trials, but you don’t learn anything that hasn’t already been presented in other Bundy documentaries or get any new insight into either Bundy or Kloepfer. Most of what the film does, especially with the final trial at the end, is reinforce that apparently every young woman in the 70s thought Bundy was super hot. (Which, side note: am I the only woman who looks at pictures of Bundy and does not find him attractive? The man looked like he was in his mid fifties when he was only thirty one. I don’t get it.)
Sydney – I think it was intended to be mostly entertaining, but it falls short on both. While I am glad the film did not show any gratuitous murder scenes out of respect for the victims, I would have been far more interested in watching Bundy’s crimes and psychopathy than I was watching Zac Efron be handsome and charming. I think the film had everything going for it: a talented cast and the story of perhaps one of the most notorious and fascinating serial killers. But in the end, it felt unbalanced and unfulfilled.
While the film was ultimately a disappointment, Efron’s and Collins’ performances are to be praised, doing the most with what little material they had to work with. Given the opportunity, I think Efron would have portrayed the dark side of Bundy flawlessly. My sincere hope is that true crime fans will someday be given a retelling of Ted Bundy’s story that focuses more on his mentality and crimes than it does the fact that he was smart and handsome.
Watch the trailer for Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile below.