Movie Review: Zac Efron-starring Bundy film delivers its title’s promise, unsettles through new perspective

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Courtesy of Netflix.

Preston Barta // Features Editor

EXTREMELY WICKED, SHOCKINGLY EVIL AND VILE

Rated R, 108 minutes.
Director: Joe Berlinger
Cast: Lily Collins, Zac Efron, Angela Sarafyan, Haley Joel Osment, Terry Kinney, Brian Geraghty, Jim Parsons and John Malkovich

DALLAS True crime splatters itself all across the storytelling mediums. It seems anywhere we look these days there’s a new book, documentary, television show or podcast devoted to the unimaginable crimes inflicted by the vilest of people — and yet we consume them and are fascinated by them. We want access to the minds of the wicked to learn more about how to protect our families and ourselves.

Ted Bundy is one of the most captivating serial killers of them all. Many other notorious murderers have high body counts, but Bundy remains a unique figure because he didn’t look like someone capable of such evil. He was a handsome man who had the manipulation skills to put you on his side. Before his confession, many doubted Bundy ever committed multiple murders and mutilations, despite an overwhelming amount of evidence.

Filmmaker Joe Berlinger, who most recently had a hand in the development of the Netflix docu-series CONVERSATIONS WITH A KILLER: THE TED BUNDY TAPES, tackles this disbelief head-on by looking at how that doubt manifested in someone close to Bundy.

In Berlinger’s chilling film – EXTREMELY WICKED, SHOCKINGLY EVIL AND VILE – we understand the complex nature of Bundy (Zac Efron) through the eyes of his longtime girlfriend and former fiancée, Elizabeth “Liz” Kloepfer (Lily Collins). Never does the film highlight the horrid crimes or show us the gory details of Bundy’s actions; instead, we explore the evidence against him and the emotional imprisonment of Liz.

Spanning 20 years from the moment Liz met Bundy as a single mother to Bundy’s execution, Extremely Wicked follows Liz as she remained in a relationship with Bundy for years, even while he was incarcerated. It’s a powerful psychological horror film where you, the audience member, feels just as confused about Bundy’s actions as Liz. Some critics have said EXTREMELY WICKED glorifies Bundy, but once all is revealed, you realize how the film plays you like a fiddle.

As enjoyable as it is to watch Efron partake in frat wars with Seth Rogen or oil up his 16 abs alongside Dwayne Johnson, in EXTREMELY WICKED, he shows how he is capable of so much more, leaving any trace of Troy Bolton in the dust. He wears Bundy like a second layer of skin. Efron finds a seamless balance between playing Prince Charming and the Prince of Darkness. The final scene of the movie alone is damn near SILENCE OF THE LAMBS territory.

Collins isn’t stuck in some basic wife role, either. This is her story. We feel every ounce of her pain and struggle to free herself. Through Collins’ performance, you understand what Liz sees in Bundy. Even though Bundy doesn’t bring that same sickening violence home to Liz, the psychological torment he puts her through is just as disturbing to watch.

“Don’t give up on me,” Bundy tells Liz throughout the film.

Berlinger avoids the basic storytelling structure, bouncing around the timeline like one reflects on their past. It’s organic and flows quite smoothly. EXTREMELY WICKED may dabble in some cliché drama territory every now and then, but it doesn’t detract from delivering the truth of the story, which is: The truth is scary.

Grade: B

EXTREMELY WICKED, SHOCKINGLY EVIL, AND VILE held its regional premiere at the Dallas International Film Festival on April 11. The film will release May 3 in select theaters and on Netflix.

About author

Preston Barta

Hello, there! My name is Preston Barta, and I am the features editor of Fresh Fiction and senior film critic at the Denton Record-Chronicle. My cinematic love story began where I was born: off planet on the isolated desert world of the Jakku system. It's there I passed the time scavenging for loose parts with my good friend Rey. One day I found an old film projector and a dusty reel of the 1975 film JAWS. It rocked my world so much that I left my kinfolk in the rearview (I so miss their morning cups of green milk) to pursue my dreams of writing about film. It wasn't long until I met two gents who said they would give me a lift. I can't recall their names, but one was an older man who liked to point a lot and the other was a tall, hairy fella. They got me as far as one of Jupiter's moons where we crossed paths with the U.S.S. Enterprise. Some pointy-eared bastard said I was clear to come aboard. He saw that I was clutching my beloved shark movie and invited me to the "moving pictures room" where he was screening the 1993 film JURASSIC PARK to his crew. He said my life would be much more prosperous if I were familiar with more work by the god named Steven Spielberg. From there, my love for cinema blossomed. Once we reached planet Earth, everything changed. I found the small town of Denton, TX, and was welcomed into the Barta family. They showed me the writings of local film critic Boo Allen. He became my hero and caused me to chase a degree in film and journalism. After my studies at graduate of the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, I met some film critics who showed me the ropes and got me into my first press screening: 2011's THE GREEN LANTERN. Don't worry; I recovered just fine. MAD MAX: FURY ROAD was only four years away.