From the moment I started watching Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile, I almost forgot I was watching the story of one of the most prolific serial killers of our time. Almost. Netflix’s new film starring Zac Efron as a charmingly persuasive Ted Bundy and Lily Collins as his girlfriend of six years could almost fool audiences into thinking they’re watching a dark romantic film instead of a terrifyingly true story.
Parts of the film are based on the writings of Liz Kloepfer (played by Collins) in her book “The Phantom Prince: My Life with Ted Bundy.” The pair had a tumultuous relationship that lasted six years, during which Bundy went on a murdering spree in multiple states. Bundy later confessed to killing at least 30 women. Their deeply troubling relationship continued through Bundy’s homicide trials, each exposing Liz to a new lie, perversion, and deadly truth that lay behind Bundy’s charismatic nature that attracted dozens of women during and after his televised trial.
Led by the same director as Netflix’s documentary series Confessions of a Serial Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes, the film is presented as giving new insight into the side characters in Bundy’s life and shares seemingly tender moments between Bundy and his long-term girlfriend. From a meet-cute introduction to dinner dates with Kloepfer and her daughter, Bundy’s smooth-talking ability is clearly showcased. But hindsight is 20/20 – would we have known put in Kloepfer’s shoes? Unfortunately, the movie does little to paint the full picture to her perspective and shares more on emotions of Bundy as he faces murder investigations, homicide trials, loss of his freedom, and more. The audience sees how Bundy sells himself as a trustworthy good guy – a perception many were sold on while he was on trial for murder. For better or worse, the audience never sees Bundy commit the horrific murders of which he confesses to and is convicted of. A single dramatization and continuous alluding to is all the audience witnesses of Ted’s true nature. Additionally, the film omits when Bundy attempted to murder Kloepfer by burning her house down which she includes in her own book.
Without prior knowledge of who and what Ted Bundy is – I can’t say that it would be clear to viewers that they’re watching the story of a truly vile person. To Zac Efron’s credit, his portrayal of the Bundy is convincing, leaving some rooting for his almost arch-hero character. From his continued claims of innocents to his devilish charism, Efron plays the game Bundy made of luring people to an untimely death. But we know the ending and know Bundy isn’t the hero of this or any story.