I don’t understand the meme in which serial killer Ted Bundy is lauded for his physical attractiveness in spite of his villainy. Netflix is the prime source of the “hot Bundy” memes, and the memes do not do Netflix’s latest, Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile, any favors. Midway through Joe Berlinger’s film, a series of women are interviewed during an intermission from Bundy’s murder trial, and they stumble through statements that exult the alluring presence of Bundy in the court room.
If that isn’t enough proof that the film aims to capitalize on Bundy’s sexual presence, later in the film Zac Efron’s Bundy has sex with his closest companion and supporter against a Coke machine while he’s in lockup.
As strange as this memification is, it doesn’t distract from the disparity between how Bundy is depicted and the calling into question that occurs in regard to his crimes. What is so strange about Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile is that it doesn’t appear to believe in the labels of its title. What is more strange is that the attempt by Berlinger and screenwriter Michael Werwie to make sympathetic its notorious murderer character is that the representation of Bundy does not live up to those calls for sympathy at all.
Efron’s Bundy is not fascinating or alluring enough to match the undue respect the film allows him. He is a slightly hot-headed defendant with a chip on his shoulder, armed with Efron’s good looks, but the character is otherwise rather bland. And the purported charm of his personality is difficult to find.
There is something intriguing about Bundy’s attempts to have a relationship and in his attempt at spinning the media to his side. But the focus on Bundy is not only a questionable choice, it is one that is surprising for its lack of verve. The court sequences are silly, and they paint Bundy as a sly lawyering genius, ultimately perpetuating a reverence for the man that is undeserved.
What would be more deserved is an examination of Bundy’s one-time fiance, Liz (Lily Collins), and it appears at the onset that this is the narrative aim. But Liz is quickly relegated to a position on the couch, distraught and pouring herself glasses of vodka as she watches the events of Bundy’s story unfold. Their relationship ultimately means very little, even if it is set up as the narrative foundation. What results is a final meeting between the former lovers that is stilted and hollow.
Even if it pretends to capture the tumult of loving a violent criminal, Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile really aims to make the villain its hero. It doesn’t pry into the warped psychology of such a man, though, but dances on the line between staring in awe at such a man’s evil and posing the possibility that the evil itself is projected onto the man. There isn’t anything particularly enlightening in this dance. But I guess it keeps the meme alive.
Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile: D
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—Alex Brannan (@TheAlexBrannan)