Director Joe Berlinger is no stranger to dark subjects. He directed the documentary Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills, a movie that arguably helped release three innocent men from prison. Earlier this year, he directed Conversations With a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes, a four-part documentary series on the infamous serial killer.
Now comes this, a narrative film about Bundy’s life, focusing on the years in which he was killing women while having a relationship with Liz Kendall (Lily Collins), a single parent he met in a bar.
Zac Efron steps into the role of Bundy in a way that is downright frightening. If you mess with Efron’s hair a bit, he’s a dead-ringer for Bundy, but his work here goes well beyond physical resemblance. There was plenty of footage of Bundy for Efron to study (his murder trial was televised, a first in American history), and Efron definitely captures Bundy’s creepy, deceptive charisma.
Berlinger’s film focuses on the charms that fooled many who knew Bundy; he was a mostly affable, cheerful guy in the public eye. There was something supremely evil boiling behind his movie-star eyes, though, and Berlinger mostly avoids his depraved deeds in favor of examining his life away from the murders. It’s a risky approach—Berlinger could have been accused of romanticizing Bundy with the casting of Efron and the lack of carnage in the movie—but it mostly works. This movie is far from romantic, and those watching it probably know what a sick man Bundy was. This is a horror story, but one that favors creeping terror over massive bloodletting.
Berlinger covered the details of Bundy’s crimes (using Bundy’s own words) in the documentary. This film is something different, and it’s mostly successful at showing the public another frightening side of Bundy, thanks to Efron’s strong work.
Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile is now streaming on Netflix.