Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile

Review by Rich Cline | 4/5

Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile
dir Joe Berlinger
scr Michael Werwie
prd Joe Berlinger, Nicolas Chartier, Michael Costigan, Ara Keshishian, Michael Simkin
with Zac Efron, Lily Collins, Kaya Scodelario, John Malkovich, Jim Parsons, Jeffrey Donovan, Angela Sarafyan, Dylan Baker, Brian Geraghty, Haley Joel Osment, Terry Kinney, Grace Victoria Cox
release US/UK 3.May.19
19/US Voltage 1h48

collins scodelario malkovich

efron and parsons
Documentary filmmaker Joe Berlinger takes a journalistic approach to this drama about notorious 1970s serial killer Ted Bundy. Based on a book by his girlfriend, who knew nothing about his double life, the film is almost eerily breezy, presenting Bundy as a charmer who seems incapable of such violence. It's a daring approach, but each scene takes place with witnesses present and often verbatim dialog.
In 1969 Seattle, Ted (Efron) meets single mother Liz (Collins), and their relationship grows over the next seven years. When Ted is arrested for kidnapping in Utah, Liz is sure he's innocent. And surely the Colorado murder charge is merely opportunistic. But as Ted defends himself at trial (and makes two daring escapes), Liz's doubts grow. So Ted turns for support to his old girlfriend Carole Anne (Scodelario), who supports him right to the end as he's tried for three murders in Florida by a tenacious prosecutor (Parsons) before a thoughtful judge (Malkovich).
Berlinger creates sharp visuals, using doc-style camerawork and leaving the reported violence off-screen. The tone is loose and realistic, constantly catching comical moments that feel unnervingly honest. And the production design makes rather uncanny use of the colour yellow, perhaps to help the audience connect the dots. Because viewers unfamiliar with Bundy's story might be charmed into thinking, like his army of fans at the time, that he was wrongly accused.

Efron and Collins cleverly subvert their roles as villain and victim, finding authenticity under the skin. Efron gives one of his most pungent performances yet as the likeably offhanded monster, subtly revealing against-the-grain thought processes. Collins explores Liz's feelings of guilt, refusing to believe that she's a victim herself. And the film also offers perfect roles for ace scene-stealers Parsons and especially Malkovich, who makes the judge's words (including the film's title) feel like poetry.

Werwie's script is notable for avoiding genre cliches, following neither a vicious murderer nor a detailed police investigation: it's about the superficiality of American society, as people wilfully refuse to see the dark truth behind a pleasing surface. Liz was one of the first to name him to the police, but it took years for her to accept his guilt; Bundy became a celebrity during his trial due to his disarming charm. So in the context of the Catholic church scandal, Operation Yew Tree, #MeToo or President Trump, this film becomes even more chilling.

cert 15 themes, language, violence, sexuality 17.Apr.19

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© 2019 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall