The Netflix film “Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, and Vile” is an interesting attempt at adding a twist to the tale of Ted Bundy, one of America’s most notorious serial killers.
Focusing on the woman who fell for Bundy’s charms yet somehow evaded the worst aspects of his deranged persona provides a new and at times incredible perspective. But the movie falls short of accomplishing the goal it set out to achieve.
Based on the book “The Phantom Prince: My Life with Ted Bundy,” “Extremely Wicked” begins with Elizabeth Kendall (Lily Collins) in Seattle, in 1969. A single mother out on the town with a friend, Liz seems ready to leap back into dating. She is approached by a smooth talking, handsome man at a local bar. This man is Bundy (Zac Efron). Over several years, Bundy charms his way into Liz’s life, and she couldn’t be happier. The story lacks crucial input from Liz, and therefore no insight into what set Bundy apart from other men.
The movie then shifts gears and we get a CliffsNotes version of Bundy’s story, starting with his arrest, trial and conviction in 1975 for kidnapping in Utah. In 1977, he is transferred to Colorado to stand trial for murder. He escapes not once, but twice, from prison. Bundy is well-played throughout by Efron, depicting him as an intelligent man who once studied law. As such, he acts as his own attorney in several courtroom appearances. Efron also presents the worst sides of Bundy as well. Although none of the crimes are depicted in “Extremely Wicked,” Efron delivers the percolating insanity lying just under Bundy’s carefully manufactured calm.
After his second escape, Bundy committed numerous murders and crimes against women. He is caught in Florida, and his 1979 trial is well represented as the spectacle it became. With this being the first time television cameras were allowed to film a trial, Bundy served as his own legal representation. In “Extremely Wicked,” Bundy is shown using this opportunity not necessarily to make himself a free man, but to play for the cameras — at one point, proposing to a woman on the stand.
There are other good acting performances in “Extremely Wicked” by Jim Parsons, of TV show “The Big Bang Theory,” as prosecutor Larry Simpson; and John Malkovich, as Judge Edward D. Cowart. But Liz, who seemed so crucial to the movie’s beginnings, is all but forgotten. Scenes of the trial juxtaposed with a distressed Liz watching in Seattle don’t do enough to maintain the connection we should feel.
“Extremely Wicked” has some great things going for it. The effort the movie makes to tell what is sure to be an unknown story for some is praiseworthy. Lovers of the true crime genre will no doubt find it compelling. The true-life sensationalism of the trial simply overpowers the intended message. Instead of identifying with Liz’s struggles, we see her only as a footnote to a horrifying tale of one man’s evil.
2.5 stars out of 5