Liz Kendall (Lily Collins) is happy in her relationship with hard working law student Ted Bundy (Zac Efron). However, as women in multiple states are attacked and horribly murdered, the net begins to tighten around Ted. Will Lily be able to come to terms with loving a man everyone considers a monster?
A serial killer obsession is more normal than it sounds – who doesn’t enjoy a good true crime doco or hard-boiled biopic on the brutal actions of the worst people in the criminal world?
If your average consumer is a fan, then Netflix has every piece of merchandise. Following the success of its recent documentary Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes, the Efron-led biopic Extremely Wicked… is now streaming, ready to offer viewers another bowl of serial (killer). Unfortunately, this serving is more plain bran, less interesting juicy bits.
Director Joe Berlinger made an interesting choice by selecting to adapt the memoirs of one of Ted Bundy’s ex-girlfriends. I expected a hardened slasher in the same vein as American Psycho, or something out of the police procedural genre like Se7en. Instead, we got a straight drama around Liz’ depression about being with America’s most notorious criminal. While this perspective isn’t necessarily flawed, it’s challenging – how do you devote enough attention to Liz without taking away from the carnival surrounding Bundy’s crimes, captures and escapes?
It’s not something screenwriter Michael Werwie achieves. With all the attention on Bundy (thanks to Efron’s performance), it feels like we learn little about Liz or her struggle to come to terms with her guilt. The uniqueness of her narrative standpoint is undermined by her connection to Bundy – like a black hole, he drains the life from her narrative viewpoint. This means, by extension, we don’t get enough insight into Bundy’s inner motives either. And if a narrator who spent more time with Bundy than others can’t tell us anything new about his psyche, will we ever get an idea of what drove him?
Other reviews speculate this was Berlinger’s drive when making Extremely Wicked… – not to analyse what Bundy was like, but to simply show him as a shell hollowed out by evil. Berlinger uses repeated shots and close ups of Bundy during scene repetitions to show him as slightly unhinged at second glance. Despite the narrative flaws, the direction here is great, giving us the sense of Bundy as a near-perfect unanimated figure – almost exactly human, but unsettlingly not.
This is tied together with a marvellous lead from Efron. He leans on his old-fashioned Hollywood looks and charisma but puts a slight spin on it, leaving us unnerved at our fascination with him. Kaya Scoldelario is also noteworthy as ultimate fan girl Carol Anne Boone, but Lily Collins is lost trying to stand out as protagonist Liz.
A release so soon after Conversations with a Killer… was meant to build on the recent interest around one of America’s most notorious killers. To me, it had the opposite effect. Too much is left uncovered and unsaid in Extremely Wicked…, with the choice of narrative perspective and compact run time leaving the film stunted and forgettable. Not even Efron’s powerful performance can pull this effort into the spotlight.
A slow-starting film that grows into itself, Extremely Wicked… ultimately fails to channel the engaging depravity of its source material. 6/10.