Sundance 2019: Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, and Vile

I am a fan of director Joe Berlinger. His work touches on many of my major true crime and cultural obsessions; plus, I will defend the awesome and 100% original Blair Witch 2: Book of Shadows to the death. Now, in Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, and Vile he turns his attention on one of the big names in dark Americana: serial killer Ted Bundy, who is presently having cultural moment.

Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, and Vile
Director: Joe Berlinger
Writer: Michael Werwie
Notable Cast: Zac Efron, Lily Collins, Angela Sarafyan, Haley Joel Osment, Grace Victoria Cox, James Hetfield (!), John Malkovich, Jeffrey Donovan
Based on the book “The Phantom Prince: My Life With Ted Bundy” by his former girlfriend Elizabeth Kloepfer

Commentary:  Berlinger has pulled off a subtle triumph. In this film, he took us through the gaslighting that Bundy’s ex-fiancée, Liz, experienced. And despite intellectually being aware exactly what Ted Bundy was guilty of, I still fell for it.

I was initially annoyed by the pacing and frenetic shots at the start of the film. I bristled at the fact that we were presented with a sweet domestic vision of Bundy’s life with Liz and her daughter, instead of shocking dramatizations of his sick crimes.

That was the point, idiot.

The movie is a bit of a chameleon; at turns it’s a fugitive chase thriller, it’s a romance and it’s a courtroom drama. Bundy had charm and so does Efron; you can get lulled into his sociopathic delusion and bravado. You could even conceivably root for him as he grandstands his courtroom defense.

Efron was terrific. This was a performance that, contrary to opinion, doesn’t hinge solely on his looks. Efron studied hard and was able to telegraph the real Ted Bundy’s tics and masked insanity. Netflix currently is admonishing viewers not to ‘lust’ after Ted Bundy. Look, celebrity criminals have followings and devoted fans. It’s not right and not healthy, but it just is, and the film deals with it and I do not feel it was condoning or glorifying it.

The last act of the film brought it all home beautifully. Liz was owed a reckoning and Bundy delivered it.  And the audience was brought into the truth, and there, indeed was the horror.

Well done Mr. Berlinger. Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, and Vile is a recommend.

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