It has been 30 years since Ted Bundy took his seat in the electric chair and the hair on people’s necks still stand on end at the mention of his name. Building off of this, Joe Berlinger has directed the latest film that aims to portray the inner workings of Bundy’s life and the events that led to his conviction, in the new blockbuster ‘Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile’. The film is named after a description given about Bundy during one of the many court sessions throughout his trial, but the story itself is based on Elizabeth Kloepfer’s, Bundy’s long-time girlfriend who writes under the pseudonym Liz Kendall, novel ‘The Phantom Prince: My Life with Ted Bundy’.
Aside from the films interesting, all be it rather overdone subject matter, its debut at Sundance and the release of its trailer brought a lot of attention to the film, and not in the way a director would like. True to form, the internet and its tech-savvy warriors were ready to tear apart the film at the slightest sign of malpractice and they had a field day when it was announced that Zac Efron was set to play the serial killer. This particular casting sparked controversy as audiences felt as though casting Efron as Ted Bundy would romanticise the murderer, as previous to this Efron has only really played heartthrob characters.
However, casting an attractive and charismatic actor in the role of Ted Bundy was a necessary step in the process of making this film, as many directors and members of the public have argued that Ted Bundy was able to commit so many of his crimes and win over the media because of his sickly sweet and charming nature. The Ted Bundy portrayed in the film is the person Bundy wanted the audience to see, the person he wanted you to believe he was, and for that I commend Berlinger on taking the risk and showing us the glorified version in order for us to understand the extent to which Bundy’s manipulative and damaging behaviour went. When responding to the backlash, Berlinger explained that when you watch the movie you understand that it is an exploration into the journey and experience of how one becomes a victim to the kind of psychotic seduction Ted Bundy was infamous for. Efron has mentioned in a few interviews how he was hesitant to accept the role at first, but he was drawn to the role due to the fact that the film is primarily from the perspective of Bundy’s long-term girlfriend. This could also be a chance for Zac Efron to move away from the all singing, all dancing, rom-com teen heartthrob characters he has grown so accustomed to playing.
The trailer itself was definitely edited in poor taste, from the quick cuts and adrenaline pumping music in the background, it makes the movie seem like an action rom-com about a quirky guy who murders a multitude of women. Which sadly, would not necessarily seem out of place in our cinemas today, but for this particular subject matter, there are a number of creative choices that were mistakes.
It is also important to remember that the film is aiming to understand and portray what it was like for Elizabeth Kloepfer to have to live with the idea that she had been lying next to a monster. It is quite possible we are going to see Ted Bundy through very loving eyes as Elizabeth refused to believe the allegations against her boyfriend for some time. This does not take away from the traumatic experiences his victims will have gone through and it does not romanticise Ted’s character, any more than how he was seen in real life by the people around him. Audiences tend to like simplicity and stark contrasts in their films, a good guy you can root for and a villain so heinous we don’t have to question our hatred for them.
That being said, the villains in real life, the ones that walk among us, are not always laughing manically and sharing their evil mastermind plans to take over the world or kidnap the helpless girl, most of the time we might not even notice the person is there. If Berlinger were to present a version of Ted Bundy that was blatantly evil, we would never be able to understand that the real-world villains are far more complex and dangerous than we realise.
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