Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, and Vile (2019)

An elegant duality exposition juxtaposing sweet vignettes of a love story with a dark trial of unspeakable crimes, powerfully-acted by Efron as the smooth-talking Bundy & nuanced in striking (#MeToo era-relevant) wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing parable. 8/10.

Plot Synopsis: A media and courtroom frenzy ensues and sweeps 1970s America when a young single mother reluctantly tips the attention of a widespread manhunt toward her longtime boyfriend and charmingly innocent-appearing/claiming Ted Bundy.

*Possible spoilers ahead*


The Most Infamous Killer In American History – & Case That Coined The Term

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Ted Bundy. The name has become a household spine-shiver, synonymous with predatory fear and unspeakable acts of serial violence out the silver screen archives of your favorite slasher franchise, hiding in plain sight: the proverbial wolf in sheep’s clothing. The subject has been tackled in many-an-attempt, from the true crime docuseries Netflix’s Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes (mixed and irony-laden) to 2002’s Ted Bundy (good horror but too on-the-nose) to 2004’s Riverman (just.. wow..), but none has really managed to convincingly capture Bundy’s endearing, haunting legacy on our minds and criminal justice from 70’s America to the present.. until now. A feature length biographical crime thriller adorned by a star-cast, sizable budget, and all the bells and whistles modern film affords it, Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, and Vile (hereby abbreviated EWSEAV) gives us a more elegant and stylized version of Bundy’s story than anything before it – filled with subtext, duality exposition, and nuanced social commentary most naysayers must not have recognized. Finally, oh finally, there’s a TB-flick worth remembering.

The Duality Exposition & Structural Layout

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Perhaps EWSEAV’s biggest selling point is its delightful, skilled juxtaposition and understanding of the true nature of what made Bundy so fascinating, efficacious, and horrifying: the cognitive dissonance and incongruity between his suave, charming personality and the brutal, unspeakable dark force lurking behind the smile. The old adages of the devil walking amongst us, snake-in-the grass, and wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing sneaking up behind us or even being welcomed in paint the macabre of Bundy better than any lengthy screenplays or analysis could transmit: and Berlinger recognized that, brilliantly working it into the very structural layout and bones of the film itself from conception. The film starts out with (and spends roughly half its brisk 1hr50 min runtime painting) a sweet landscape of sentimental vignettes feeling bizarrely straight out of a love story or Disney/family film. From its cheerio and coffee-laden family breakfasts to Prince Charming courtship of his lady love in a colorful 70’s bar serenaded by Crimson and Clover in the background, this seems like anything but a film about a serial killer, let alone the one to end them all: Ted Bundy. However, the slightest cracks start to show in the marble as the screenplay progresses – with brilliant splices and interweaving of bleak/gritty shots, mysterious vibes, and ghastly pictures of the crime scenes of some madman hacking off womens heads entirely. We’re presented with a juxtaposition of two wild antitheses of character from the perspective of Liz – forcing ourselves to say ‘it can’t be him, it just can’t, both out of wish fulfillment/disbelief someone so charming and ostensibly-normal could be the devil incarnate and because the film tricks and coaxes you into self-doubting.

A Transposition Of The Viewer’s Perspective Into Doubt-Riddled Bystanding

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The performances. Zac Efron has delivered a career-shifting performance stepping up to fill the biggest shoes in serial killer lore – a downright perfect drama performance capturing the smooth-talking, effervescent, and instantly-charming persona Bundy put on while also giving hints of his malicious psyche in undertones. He captures such a sincerity and airy, lighthearted warmth in presence that you would have to be near-psychic to be able to sense there was anything as animalistic bruesque as there was hiding behind that cheshire grin – the zenith of Bundy performances both theoretical and historically in adaptations and one that cements the film as the authoritative take on the subject. Lily Collins is equally phenomenal as lead actress in her strong portrayal of the psychological torment and unspeakable horror Liz must have experienced firsthand as Ted’s girlfriend being so madly in love with him that she feels self-‘worthless’ without him, sleeping next to him, and even trusting him enough to leave her child alone as people began accusing him of the some of the grisliest acts in American history such that she must introspect and examine her own biases, wishes, and reality: which prism is correct?

The Performances

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Alternative superstar features by names like Jim Parsons of Big Band Theory-fame, Kaya Scodelario of Maze Runner/Pirates of The Caribbean fame, and John Malkovich (seemingly in everything nowadays but most recently: Bird Box) dot the landscape of this well-cast and strongly-performed film acting-wise, but nothing tops Efron and Collins’ synergy. Their chemistry is believable and makes the romance soar, while adding a nice layer of personable humanization to the film and making it even hit 10x harder as things start to get bloodier and darker and we (as well as Liz) start to learn maybe there’s a little more to this man we’re presented & want to believe is ‘totally harmless.’ Paralleling its performances is EWSEAV’s trial handling, existential thematics/discourse, and scoring amongst the best a legal drama has had in recent memory. Complete with stirring orchestral sequences and vibrant melodies interrupted by Psycho-like piano dissonances and mysterious pads, the soundtrack is sensational and merits recognition for what it adds to the canvas.

The Diversity Of Subgenres

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The camerawork and visuals are of note too, utilizing apt vintage filters and old-school cameras to reshoot family sets and areas from Bundy-archival footage, period-authentic costume/set design, and transportive 70’s flair Berlinger no doubt carried over and wanted to recreate perfectly from his work in the docuseries that preceded it. There are black comedy sequences like Bundy staring down the dog in the dog shelter who evidently senses and reacts defensively to his nature before bowing against classical Bach overtures, painstaking obsessions in legal drama amongst the best trial reenactments I’ve seen since FX’s sensational American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson, masterful character drama in the Ted/Liz interplay as it evolves and changes tonally throughout the film, and pure horror doubling as a whodunit revelation in the final reveal amongst snowy white Colorado mountains: the most shocking and bludgeoning kill sequence of recent genre memory adding breathtaking final punctuation to this tale of critical life lessons to be learned.

The Reveal & #MeToo Thematic Reverberations

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The film teaches, through hard-hitting nonverbalization and transportation of the viewer into the place of one of the girls Bundy wooed and massacred, that you can’t trust people based on outward appearance; the proverbial cover to their book; their Trojan horse. Lurking behind even the most charming, room-lighting, heart-melting smile can be the most infamous serial killer in American history fantasizing about ways to kill you while holding your hand or asking you to come out to their car for a second. The film’s cynicism and existential purpose reverberates perfectly in the #MeToo Era – pleading all genders and people be careful and critical of who they trust and spend time with on a daily basis. You never know who a person really is deep down in their psyche or metaphoric Freudian id.


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If there’s one disappointing flaw in EWSEAV, it’s the deprivation of horror – made even more vexing by how absolutely brilliant that final Hacksaw scene is. They could have spliced in far more sequences/recreations of Bundy’s most famous murders like the Chi Omega sorority house at FSU with-log or lures cast at Lake Sammamish post-Hacksaw scene in the final reveal to appease the horror fanatics and not leave you feeling slightly shortchanged at how a film called ‘Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, and Vile’ is.. not all that tonally-biting. While this may not be a problem for people coming into the Bundy story raw or ignorant of his true nature, anyone already knowledgeable about his complicity/darkness will likely be underwhelmed by the lack of horror – albeit not the point of this psychological-horror film that hits hard in that regard, something that they should’ve (and could’ve easily) fixed with a few more spliced-in sequences.


Psychology-Over-Physicality: This Is Slasher Cinema For The Intellectual

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Overall, Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, and Vile is a strong deliverable on the infamous man whose story coined the now-ubiquitous term: serial killer. A lesser film would have focused solely on the slasher sequences and kills like an umpteenth Halloween or Friday The 13th film; EWSEAV focuses on the psychological ghastliness of what made Bundy the most effective serial killer in history: coaxing his victims into a trust based on his presented charming looks and smile, only to bludgeon their heads in the second they turned their backs in trust. The performances are sublime (led by a game-changing performance by Zac Efron that could merit awards consideration as the antithesis of his Disney Channel upbringings-evolved), cinematography lined with omens and macabre, direction crisp and by a filmmaker well-versed in the subject having done multiple works on Ted beforehand, scoring elegant, and vintage transportive ’70’s period-feel fantastic. EWSEAV’s biggest achievement though is its cerebrism-over-physicality – slasher cinema for the intellectual, reverberating perfectly in the #MeToo era and boasting important existential discourse/thematic purpose: making you aware of the fact that evil is not always bright red with horns and a pitchfork. It walks amongst us in plain clothes and could be anyone we know, trust, or love; the person we sleep next to or whose house we pass every day walking our dog; the person we could least suspect.

Official CLC Score: 8/10