“People don’t realize that murderers do not come out in the dark with long teeth and saliva dripping off their chin.”
Netflix’s Ted Bundy movie is anything but extremely wicked, shockingly evil and vile. It’s the opposite of what the title suggests, and that’s kind of disappointing. Not even Zac Efron’s bare butt cheeks could save this Netflix original.
“I wanted to make this film for the victims,” Efron said on playing Ted Bundy. But honestly…can you name me one of the young women whose lives Bundy took? I can’t.
The 90-second trailer premiered in January and was met with outrage as shirtless and sultry Efron graced the screen as the “vile” Ted Bundy. Critics claimed that the trailer not only glamorized Bundy, but also hyper-sexualized him. Efron’s looks echo an eerie obsessive comparison to how newspapers and fan-girls thought of Bundy. It fits. He works. I never understood the critique here until I saw the film.
Extremely Wicked hit Netflix a few months after the streaming service debuted a nonfiction miniseries about the serial killer, which I thought was problematic for the film. The miniseries was absolutely fantastic and showed the brutality coupled with the charm of the mass murderer. The miniseries gave me an in-depth look at someone I knew little about making me feel like a know-all about Bundy…so when the movie dropped, I felt much was lacking.
Director Joe Berlinger is actually a veteran of true-crime storytelling as he directed both Paradise Lost (1996) and Brother’s Keeper (1992)…the former documentary I’ve seen, and it’s absolutely brilliant.
Berlinger, responded to the backlash, saying: “If you actually watch the movie, the last thing we’re doing is glorifying him. He gets his due at the end, but we’re portraying the experience of how one becomes a victim to that kind of psychopathic seduction.”
While Berlinger is kind of right, he completely misses the mark of storytelling by having it told from the point of view of Elizabeth, Bundy’s long-time girlfriend. The script, by Michael Werwie, is credited as an adaptation of the The Phantom Prince: My Life With Ted Bundy, which was written by Elizabeth Kloepfer, under the pseudonym Elizabeth Kendall.
I understand the point of this perspective is to make us ask questions, challenge the audience and try to make sense of what happened. Why was one of America’s most horrific serial killers so glamorized by the media? Look. I get it. I just think that if we’re going to tell his story, let’s make it what the title of the film suggests, and it didn’t. At all.
The film describes Bundy’s violent acts, but never truly depicts them. There are quick glimpses of morbid decapitated victims, blood splattered on a bed, but it’s all sparse and mild. It reminded me of how the Freddie Mercury movie last year created a somewhat tame Mercury on screen when he lived anything but a tame life. I’m not asking for savage brutality to be shown on screen, but something that offers a truer depiction of Bundy behind the dazzling charm for those who know nothing about him.
I think if he had been given better material to work with, Efron would have devoured this role. Don’t get me wrong – his portrayal of Bundy is uncanny, but he had little wiggle room to really showcase the monster that his character was. I was never a fan of Zac Efron until the Seth Rogen group ushered him into their clan with the comedy Neighbors. With Extremely Wicked, Efron has proved to me that not only is he here to stay, but he’s going to do great things with his acting career.
If you go into this and view it as an exclusively performance-based movie, you’ll probably love it. My best advice would be to watch this movie first then watch the miniseries. If you watch the latter first, you’ll probably be disappointed and confused with the movie’s lack of focus and lack of details. It’s certainly a missed opportunity for all involved.