Sundance 2019: Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, and Vile

Zac Efron, Macie Carmosino, and Lily Collins appear in Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile directed by Joe Berlinger, an official selection of the Premieres program the 2019 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute. Photo by Brian Douglas.

Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, and Vile manages to glorify subject Ted Bundy in a manner that does not even show his violent ways at all.

Theodore Robert “Ted Bundy (Zac Efron) killed over 30 women in under five years.  Even though law enforcement officials had a number on his back, he continually denied these actions through the Florida trial.  It’s this particular trial that plays the biggest part of the film.  Yes, there’s the home life with girlfriend Liz (Lily Collins) but the interest is more on Bundy himself.  That being said, the relationship with Liz tends to humanize the man.  This film is told from her point of view.  As such, it makes sense that we see less violence than one might anticipate for a Bundy biopic.

No matter how much the relationship humanizes Bundy, he’s still the man who killed over 30 women.  This is depite Liz seeing an innocence in him.  Could Ted really have fallen victime to being in the wrong place at the wrong time?  He’s still the man who managed to escape police custody and prison.  One such escape sees Bundy climb out of a court window when the guard isn’t looking.  And he wants us to think he’s innocent?!?  Yeah, right!

Shooting from a script by Michael Werwie, director Joe Berlinger takes us in a direction that on which it’s easy to buy into the wrongful conviction of Bundy.  But this isn’t The Fugitive where the lead is framed and the real suspect is the one-armed man.  Nope, Bundy is the suspect and he wasn’t wrongfully convicted.  He just had a way of charming people in his life–a trait that Efron puts on in full display.

Zac Efron delivers what I feel to be fine performance as deranged serial killer Ted Bundy.  That is, if fine is the best choice of words here.  Make no mistake that this is probably the most dramatic performances of his career.  He’s no longer the High School Musical tween sensation but all grown up in front of our eyes.  What makes this peformance so fascinating–for lack of a better word–is that this version of Bundy looks surprisingly innocent especially with knowing what we know about him.  That’s the other thing that struck me the most about the film.  I didn’t watch the recent documentary but there’s surprisingly no violence save for a few things at the end.

Bundy’s Miami trial was the first to be televised live before a national audience.  His execution some ten years later would also be covered as such.  Just a few years after that, we have the O.J. Simpson chase starring the Ford Bronco.  One can also see how much of a role that the media plays in these situations.

Why do we as a culture feel this need to glorify serial killers?  Films such as Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, and Vile feel like they are nothing more than a reward for serial killers.  They get another thing–positive or not–that gets tacked on to their legacy.  It’s the question that I keep going back to more often than not.  It’s the same thing with those people who shoot up whatever.  Their names are the ones that get remembered more so than the victims because the media keeps shoving their names down our throats.  I’m with basketball analyst Dick Vitale on the matter because glorifying these cowards is wrong on every level.

DIRECTOR:  Joe Berlinger
SCREENWRITER:  Michael Werwie
CAST:  Zac Efron, Lily Collins, Kaya Scodelario, Jeffrey Donovan, Angela Sarafyan, Dylan Baker, Brian Geraghty, with Jim Parsons and John Malkovich

Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, and Vile held its world premiere during the 2019 Sundance Film Festival in the Premieres section. Grade: 3.5/5

Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.