One film has captured the attention and conversations of all the Sundance festival attendees in Park City. The hardest ticket to get was met with the longest lines of the festival and the shrill screams of girls waiting in attendance for a glimpse of its star Zac Efron.
That film was not a musical or a film that gave Zac Efron another chance to show off his abs, it was an intense retelling of the gruesome serial killer Ted Bundy as told through the perspective of his longtime girlfriend Elizabeth Koepfler. It is Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile, and it is my favorite movie I have seen at this year’s Sundance Film Festival.
Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile
Director: Joe Berlinger
Release Date: TBD
From the opening frame of the film we learn exactly what to expect. Efron completely inhabits the character of Bundy. The opening scene when Koepfler comes to visit him in prison moments before he is scheduled to be executed, the door opens and we get our first glimpse of Efron as Bundy. This is the first of several haunting moments of the film. The look and smile, Efron delivers as he reunites with his ex-girlfriend is chilling, yet mesmerizing.
The film then flashes back to when the two first met. Bundy is charming, likable and incredibly kind to Koepfler and even sweeter to her toddler daughter. And this is the moment that I realized I was going to like this movie but plenty of people were going to hate it. This film has already fallen under a lot of criticism for glorifying Bundy. Making him redeemable, likable and almost a sex figure. And in a way, it does exactly that. But, I believe director Joe Berlinger was purposefully trying to do that and it made this film that much more effective and enjoyable.
There is absolutely no violence or blood and gore until the last 5 minutes of the film. This was an outstanding narrative tool. Since the film is being told through his girlfriend’s perspective you never see any of the murders. You only see Bundy during his everyday routine. He is a handsome, well spoken, intelligent man, who is striving to be a lawyer. Bundy and Koepfler discuss their future of building a house on a lake, owning dogs and growing old together. Bundy is likable and relatable and when he is first arrested and brought into custody, you find yourself rooting for his innocence so he can get back to his family.
Is this manipulation? Is it unethical to paint a man in such a good light who killed so many innocent women and ruined even more lives? Perhaps. But in my opinion, it’s what the film is trying to bring to life. You never really know who people truly are. We are all capable of the greatest good, yet we all have the ability to do evil.
Bundy was a monster. As the film goes along you slowly learn small details of his crimes. As he escapes and gets recaptured you learn of more accusations and they start to become a part of the film’s narrative. When the trial starts, the movie takes a sharp turn into a courtroom drama. Jim Parsons plays the lead Florida prosecutor, Larry Simpson, and John Malkovich plays Judge Edward D. Cohert in courtroom scenes that seem so outlandish and overdramatic they can’t possibly be true. Until the credits roll and the actual Television footage is shown to prove word for word what occurred was accurately portrayed in the film.
The courtroom scenes are wonderful and this is when Efron flexes his acting muscles. His range in this film is the greatest of his career. The intensity and determination to prove his innocence is brought to life through his charisma, humor, and sickness in his eyes. Lily Collins is wonderful as Koepfler and even Haley Joel-Osment is refreshing as Koepfler’s later boyfriend and voice of reason.
The final scene is where the greatest payoff in this film resides. I won’t spoil anything but it’s the first time you witness the true gruesomeness of Bundy and his actions. This is the moment where any likability, glamorization, or charm is completely wiped from Bundy. It’s also the moment everything becomes clear to Koepfler.
I was left heavily affected by the writing, storyline, structure and the performances. Many people might get hung up on the fact that this movie was made — Ted Bundy continues to get his likeness and name out there while his victims have been wiped from this planet for the past several decades. However, I believe this film is meant to exonerate his girlfriend and all the people who fell for his manipulation and “charm.” How can someone possibly fall in love with a man so vile and so evil? This film delivers that answer.