DIRECTOR: JOE BERLINGER | SCREENPLAY: MICHAEL WERWIE | STARRING: ZAC EFRON, LILY COLLINS, ANGELA SARAFYAN | RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW IN SELECTED UK CINEMAS [ALSO AVAILABLE THROUGH SKY GO AND NOWTV]
Everyone has their fans. In the case of High School Musical heartthrob Zac Efron, that’s easy to understand, given the actor’s easy charisma, good looks and chiselled abs. When it comes to serial killers, however, the mind tends to boggle. The two fandoms collide in Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile, which casts one charming hunk as another – the monstrous serial killer Ted Bundy. Ew.
As is often the case, director Joe Berlinger’s serial killer biopic has been a point of controversy since its first trailer, deemed by many as disrespectful and inappropriate to its subject matter. And more to the point, to the victims. Real people, murdered at the hands of Ted Bundy; families forced to relive their trauma in the name of cheap thrills. Thankfully, this isn’t the case when it comes to the actual film, and regardless of how lenient one is on the (admittedly tacky) trailer, the film itself is an entirely different beast. Yes, Zac Efron’s Ted Bundy is handsome, charming and even charismatic – arguably more so than the kinda-hot-for-the-‘70s Bundy himself – and yes, the tone is lighter in places than one might expect from a serial killer biopic. But this is no glamorisation of Ted Bundy. Instead, Berlinger turns his focus to the people around Bundy, playing to how he was perceived to be rather than how he was. In this respect, it makes sense that Zac Efron plays Ted Bundy as more sincere and dashing than the man actually was. There are layers to Efron’s performance, and that’s not a thing we ever expected to be saying of Troy from High School Musical.
This isn’t to say that Berlinger is entirely successful. None of the supporting characters are particularly well-drawn, with Lily Collins’ Liz Kendall feeling like an afterthought when she should have been the film’s heart. Instead, Bundy is front and centre – the leading man where he should have been relegated to the shadows, like young Jeffrey Dahmer in the superior My Friend Dahme. Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile is a number of films all at once, each fighting against the other. There’s the courtroom drama, at which it succeeds almost entirely. There’s the dark and brooding biopic from Kendall and Carol Anne Boone’s perspective, at which it fails. And then there’s the almost zany Catch Me if You Can black comedy, which is muted, but still there. Thankfully, none of its personalities are the exploitation horror flick predicted by the online mobs and, if anything, the central outrage proves prescient to Berlinger’s real point – that people are drawn to serial killers.
Everyone has their fans, and so will this film. With its excellent cast and tour de force performance from Zac Efron, this is an impressive piece of work, structurally flawed and tonally wonky as it may be. It’s extremely competent, shockingly restrained and fine, and barely worth getting upset about… certainly not when a film like The Haunting of Sharon Tate is sitting right there. Ultimately, Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile is bound to be a point of conversation or many years to come, the surrounding controversy only serving to keep it – and Ted Bundy - in the spotlight. Ew.