Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, and Vile: A Review
by Lydia Kendall-McDougall
Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, and Vile, is Zac Efron as we’ve never truly seen him before: he’s sophisticated, mature, and delivers an incredible performance in what can only be described as a complicated and sensitive film. Told largely from the viewpoint of Ted Bundy’s girlfriend, Elizabeth Kloepfer, the story follows Bundy’s investigation, trial and conviction. Efron has never departed so much from his High School Musical days, not only because of the film’s harrowing content, but because he sinks so well into the role that it’s often easy to forget it’s actually him. The film contains scenes depicting real life events, with the actual clips screened during the credits, demonstrating how uncanny Efron’s interpretation Bundy is; it’s not simply an impersonation.
As far as narrative structure goes, the film is well made. The opening scene is the same as the penultimate, as Ted and ‘Liz’ (Lily Collins) sit face-to-face through the glass in Bundy’s prison. Lines within this conversation are cut out at the start and revealed at the end, meaning we are given two scenes which are both the same and completely different, giving us a better insight into this troubled relationship, which was cleverly and subtly done. The film intended to focus on Liz’s reaction to Bundy’s actions; this was most strongly reflected in what was revealed to us and when. While some watchers may be confused as to the unusual lack of depiction of Bundy’s crimes for a great deal of the film- myself included- I think the intension here was to reveal such developments to us along with Liz. While everything seems distant and nonsensical to her, so it does to us, and the only clue we get is a drawing in the newspaper and the news that someone has told the police his name. This Liz does know, which is significant, but I’ll try to stray from ruining the film for those who haven’t yet watched. Later on, we get television shots of news programmes showing evidence (which are possibly real photos) as Liz watches them, and finally jump-cuts to Bundy committing the crimes, which comes around the same time as Liz’s acceptance of his guilt.
The intensions here seem to have played off well, but while the structuring was strong, they failed Lily Collins in terms of character. Supposedly from her point of view, it felt like the film wanted to focus on Bundy and all the dramatic events of his investigation and capture(s), but kept remembering they needed to bring it back to Liz. I sympathised with her (who couldn’t?), but there was potential to form a deeper connection with this character; there were a lot of clips of her drinking, crying and looking a little bit pale, but not much else, and she didn’t seem to age in the decade-long time lapse while others did. It skirted over her alcoholism by showing a few surface-level scenes of her drinking, followed by a sudden cure following Bundy’s sentencing, but this could have been really interesting if developed better, and would also have kept up the storyline the film promised. While they could have explored further into her new relationship, which instead relied a lot on audience assumption, I appreciate there is only so much one film can show. Overall, for a film claiming to be from the perspective of Liz, and while she was physically on the screen a lot, we didn’t get much of her as a character.
Having said that the narrative did well with revealing Bundy’s crimes, slightly more evidence of this may have allowed them to avoid the argument that the film didn’t give enough voice to the victims. I have argued before that the film seeks to make us conflicted about Bundy in order to underline the importance of his ability to manipulate, but I’m concerned that the film gets dangerously close to spending two-thirds not thoroughly expressing how awful Bundy was. And again, the perspective of Liz may be the reason for this. But as the editing was already full of jump-cuts to both joyful and unsettling memories, the zooming close-up of Bundy’s face during his death penalty sentence, in which he completely denies all his crimes, could have featured a few jumps cuts to Bundy interacting with his victims. This might better hone in on that manipulation, as are featured minimally later on. However, the thirty names of the women killed by Bundy feature at the close, over a clip of Liz and her friends driving away from the prison. The focus is taken away from Bundy’s execution, which isn’t shown, and so the sympathy is wholly shown to the victims: the women killed, and those close to him who trusted him. In this way, the film did well in depicting Bundy as a master manipulator and serial killer, while paying homage to those whose lives were destroyed at his hands.