Based on Ted Bundy‘s former girlfriend Elizabeth Kendall‘s memoir, The Phantom Prince: My Life with Ted Bundy, and directed by Joe Berlinger, Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile is told from Kendall’s point of view as she refused for years to acknowledge that her boyfriend was a serial killer. Following the courtroom frenzy that ensued in 1970s America, headed by Judge Edward Cowart (John Malkovich), the film tells the story of when Kendall, then a young single mother (Lily Collins), met Bundy (Zac Efron) whilst he was studying law. Bundy soon became famous for committing several heinous crimes against women, despite her disbelief.
In the same way that I had issues with the documentary that Joe Berlinger made for Netflix, I spent a lot of time worrying that this film was showing Bundy’s character in too much of a positive light. Because we see the story from his and Kendall’s perspectives, it’s almost as if we are made to doubt that he did any of these murders in the first place, lacking any focus on how Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile he was. However, the final 15 minutes really turned this around for me.
Whilst I am disappointed that Berlinger once again focuses on how the media saw Bundy as an attractive and intelligent man and not giving enough gruesome details about what he actually did, I came away thinking that the final scenes worked really well to unmask Bundy as the evil killer he was behind the facade of his confident, untouchable persona.
Although the film justified its position, in my eyes, alongside the documentary I do still feel that there is some unbalance in how Berlinger strays away from the details of what Bundy did to so many women. If the film didn’t end with Bundy’s execution, I would be rooting for a sequel so that we could see how Bundy unwrapped in his final days, to see Efron take on his confession tapes so that we could see Bundy for who he really was, instead of the stance of Berling who seems to be somewhat tiptoeing around the brutal truths.
And that’s the problem many will have with this film, because there is so much time spent on building the audience up to like and sympathise with Bundy, when we all know what he did. But I suppose that’s how it really was. He tricked so many people into believing that he hadn’t done anything wrong, only to throw it all back at you in the very last minute. And if we didn’t know the truth, then this would have worked as a brilliantly dark twist at the end as it manipulates us in the same way that Bundy did.
Thinking about the film separately from the documentary, however, I think that the story is told incredibly well. Although I knew that Bundy confessed close to when his death sentence is carried out, the revelations at the end still left me on edge and in shock.
The performances in these final moments are fantastic (as they are through the whole film). Both Efron and Collins give their best efforts and their passion and chemistry emanate throughout. Efron looks so good in the role and it’s disturbing how much he resembles Bundy at times, which really helps to make his performance stand out so much. The supporting cast is fantastic too, with Kaya Scodelario taking on a great role.