Director Joe Berlinger is no stranger to the serial killer genre nor even to the Ted Bundy killings. Ted Bundy is one of the most infamous American serial killers in history, being extremely charming and good-looking while committing unspeakable violent acts with the women he has killed. Berlinger has made the 1997 doc PARADISE LOST: THE CHILD MURDERS AT ROBIN HOOD HILLS and lately CONVERSATIONS WITH A KILLER: THE TED BUNDY TAPES. In his latest film, EXTREMELY WICKED, SHOCKINGLY EVIL AND VILE, the Ted Bundy story is told from a different perspective, from the point of view of one of the women charmed by him, who fell in love with him and visited him in prison while all the time believing in his innocence. This woman is Liz (Lily Collins) who is finally forced to let him go at the end of the film.
The words of them film’s title are the exact words of Judge Edward Coward (played with sarcastic relish by John Malkovich), himself charmed by the killer while sentencing the man right after the trial. Throughout the film, Berlinger never admits to Bundy’s guilt though there are a few instances (the evil sensed by a dog; his look while having sex; his look while being pushed beyond the limit) of a possibility. If one had not known the history that Bundy had admitted his guilt and has since been executed in the electric chair, the film would attest his innocence and how wrongful his arrest was. Such is the story-teeing ability of Berlinger.
The film unfolds like a love story. Bundy and Liz meet at a bar. It is love at first sight. He takes Liz on as a girlfriend and lover despite she being a single mother. When arrested, Bundy insists on his innocence. Liz believes in him and supports him all the way despite contrary advice given her by her best friend.
Berlinger wants to show that Bundy can charm both his women as well as the audience, Zac Efron playing Bundy does just that and a marvellous job. In fact Efron bears an uncanny resemblance to the real Ted Bundy.
The film’s lighter side has Bundy defending himself in court after firing his lawyer. He pokes fun at the American Justice System while also putting down the politics of Florida. These are the only parts that Berlinger glorifies Bundy as a kind of folk hero.
At the end of the film, Bundy still persists his innocence. Though the man was to confess to his 30 or so killings before his execution, nothing of this fact is mentioned anywhere in the film, not even at the end credits. The film should be seen in conjunction with CONVERSATIONS WITH A KILLER, Berlinger’s doc on Bundy to get a fuller picture of the story.
EXTREMELY WICKED, SHOCKINGLY EVIL AND VILE, a Netflix original movie as well as CONVERSATIONS are both currently streaming on Netflix.