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Sundance: Zac Efron is "Extremely Wicked..."

Abe Fried-Tanzer reporting from Sundance

Everyone knows the name Ted Bundy, but I’m not sure that everyone knows as much as they think they do about him. I certainly didn’t going into Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile, the Sundance premiere from director Joe Berlinger, an Oscar nominee back in 2011 for the documentary Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory. The key curiousity here is the casting of Zac Efron, onetime star of High School Musical, as the notorious killer...

The film surprisingly plays out much like a farce, with Bundy being arrested early on for alleged crimes and spending pretty much the entire runtime standing trial in different states on multiple charges. Because he was a law student, Bundy was particularly interested in playing a role in his cases, while maintaining his innocence the entire time. When his most significant trial began, Bundy was described as a cowboy by the judge and often tried to make a mockery of the court and the charges in between the gruesome images shown by the prosecutor of the horrific crimes he committed. Those images would be much better described as “shockingly evil and vile” than the less meaningful “extremely wicked.”

The entire audience at a Sundance screening audibly laughed at several moments, notably the introduction of Jim Parsons as the Florida state prosecutor and John Malkovich as a judge. It’s not clear that these casting choices, and Efron’s, were meant to be humorous, yet it feels more than moderately insensitive to create a film that sometimes resembles a comedy, or at least a parody, when it deals with the violent murders of at least thirty people. Sure, there is room in the world for the The Death of Stalins and the Inglourious Basterds, but they’re not presented as biopics.

The film redeems itself somewhat with actual footage of Bundy that so incredibly resembles the scenes portrayed in the film. Efron’s performance, never quite believable, suddenly strikes a chord in retrospect, even if he might be described as more handsome and charming than the real Bundy. The mimicry of real life is impactful but it still doesn’t feel satisfying. Bundy put on an act for his whole life, and that's what the film shows. Still, a portrait of Bundy would have felt more complete had it explored those hidden, vicious moments behind the smiling for the camera. 

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Reader Comments (6)

so in other words... this is our Best Actor Oscar winner next year? ;-)

January 29, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterDAVID

Great casting choice, I hope good ol Zac may have finally have nabbed a role that calls for utilizing his good looks, but with potential for him to actually draw upon his acting chops as well. Look at Darren Criss's triumph playing Andrew Cunanan on The Assassination of Giovanni Versace. I hope ZE can do as well.

January 29, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterRob

The filmmakers avoided the "vicious moments" because we've seen it all before, either in dozens of other serial killer movies or in actual films about Bundy. There's at least three of them out there that went straight to video.

January 29, 2019 | Unregistered Commentertr

He could not decide in a one word title?

January 29, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterJaragon


But wow, that title is truly awful.

January 30, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterEvan

Watching the Netflix documentary, the title is the actual words the judge said to Bundy after his verdict.

So wordy, yes, but accurate, also yes.

This skews closely to what Tarentino is working on, and we know Tarentino is skilled at violence as comedy. Is this director also that good?

January 30, 2019 | Unregistered Commenterforever1267

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