So this is going to be a bit of a different Impressions for me because it’s sort of impossible to completely separate this movie from the reality of Ted Bundy and my own interest in True Crime. Most of my thoughts on the movie are not in whether it’s good or not, but whether it succeeded in what it claimed to want to do. There are probably a few things I should note before I really get into the Impressions of the movie itself because it is impossible to say whether or not they shaped my view.
Despite my love of True Crime and his overall “fame,” I don’t actually know a lot about Ted Bundy. Given the nature of his crimes and the way he has been treated in the media he is someone I tend to avoid. That is not to say I know nothing, but I am somewhat lacking in knowledge. I, like many True Crime fans, feel that Ted Bundy has been given a level of fame and attention that is bad. In fact, only a few months before adding this movie Netflix took some hits for adding interview tapes of Ted Bundy with little editing. A lot of people feel that he was given too much license and agency over talking about his crimes from his perspective and his perspective alone. The truth is this was a significant issue for several years, and Bundy is one of many serial killers that was allowed to control their own narrative and seemingly made people forget about the victims. I don’t want to soapbox this too much, and again it’s an ironic criticism from me as a lover of True Crime, but Bundy, I believe, is a significant example of our obsessing about serial killers and the media not always handle it in the best ways.
So then why watch this movie? Well mainly because what it promised to be, even though I disagree with that being what it actually was. Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, and Vile is based on the memoir that Elizabeth Kendall (pen-name) wrote, in which she talks about being the lover of Ted Bundy. Extremely Wicked bills itself as being Liz’s story. In many ways it is. It starts with them meeting, flashes forward to when he was first arrested and shows her developing feelings throughout the years and how it crushed her.
Liz’s story is tragic because the movie paints a picture of her never exactly being sure about Ted but still unable to let go. She loves him, truly, and for a time believes that he loves her. The relationship is shown as passionate and something that Liz puts above almost everything else but her daughter. So as it goes from accusations, to him breaking out of jail, to being tried in Florida, she is in a nearly constant state of depression and guilt. It’s a painful story to watch, but a compelling one because it is not as though a light switches from her, she really does struggle with trying to decide if Ted is the innocent man she loves or a vile monster.
The problem is this is not the main story of the movie. I don’t care how much people label it as such, Liz’s story and struggles consistently take a back seat to Ted. This is a movie about Ted Bundy, his various trials, and a little bit about his apparent obsession with Liz. For every little bit of development we get with Liz we are given twice as many scenes with Ted. From his planning both of his escapes, the way he seems to enjoy being able to be part of his own defense team, his enjoyment of the media circus around him, etc. This is still Ted’s story just with a marketing team claiming otherwise.
However, I do still give the movie credit. It is not some glorified look into his mind as a serial killer, focusing on the violence and torment he inflicted. We get a lot of those stories, and I am glad this movie shifts the focus. While it might not be Liz’s story, it is also not the story we are used to getting about serial killers. Most of the details given about the crimes are in the courtroom setting and with a focus on the victims of those details. There is no going into “his brilliant mind” and the other ways we often label serial killers. And for such a horrific killer there is little emphasis on the horrifying things he did. The moments are there, especially with sound in the end, but for the most part, it is about his trial and not his kills.
This is a good thing, but this doesn’t change that it’s not really Liz’s story. I did like the aspects of her story that were there and the struggle she went through, but it is not as sold. In fact, this isn’t only reflected in the narrative choices but character development as well.
Zac Efron does a great job, you’ll probably hear this every time you hear about this movie, and so do many of the background characters. Lily Collins does a fine job as Liz, but she is given so little that ultimately, it falls flat. She has a few compelling moments where you feel for her, but other than her final conversation with Ted Bundy, she was clearly overshadowed, which itself is problematic.
In fact, it’s what I struggle with, with this movie overall. For all the talk that this wasn’t going to be yet another piece of glory for a serial killer… I am just not sure that it succeeded. It made Ted Bundy so front and center over Liz. It gave Zac Efron compelling scene after compelling scene, while Lily Collins spends most of her time just walking around in a fog. It tells Ted’s story and then seems to just tacks on another victim of his (though this one living) as an afterthought.
It is not a bad movie, I just don’t believe that it does what it claims it tried to do. Again, I think it not being focused on his crimes was the right decision and a route that more True Crime related things need to consider. Liz’s story is important, and it is good to give her more of a voice.
So bottom line? It’s an alright movie. Again well acted, a different approach to a lot of crime dramas, and I believe it made some smart choices. I just don’t think it was great, and I don’t believe it lived up to the expectations that it set for itself. I think it’s worth a watch if you are the type of person that likes this type of movie, but it’s not the greatest I have ever seen.
Also (as a side note) for my money I think the movie that needs to be made is one that examines whether or not it was a mistake to play into Bundy’s need for infamy. Did Florida make a mistake in having his case televised? Once he started confessing and the flood gates opened of constantly interviewing him did we play into his hands?