Zac Efron has reached the heights of fame and success in Hollywood, but as a fan of his, the actor has always seemed to have some untapped potential. Efron has only flexed his dramatic chops minimally, standing out in the underrated Me and Orson Welles, but now the former teen heartbeat is getting his chance with Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile. While the actor shines as infamous serial killer Ted Bundy, the film sadly never reaches the heights of Efron’s performance.
Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile follows Bundy’s relationship with Elizabeth Kloepfer (Lilly Collins), who grows a bond with him before he is put on trial for several violent crimes. The film follows the courtroom chaos as Bundy slowly begins to reveal his true facade.
Much publicity has been made about Efron’s performance as Ted Bundy, with the actor thankfully living up to the hype. Efron’s natural movie star charisma lends well to Bundy’s slick smooth-talking appearance persona, with the actor also subtly conveying the darkness at the character’s core. The actor commands the screen from the start, often being the most engaging aspect of every scene he’s in.
While the execution ultimately misses the mark, the framework here offers some promising moments. The courtroom scenes in particular ooze with chaotic drama, with Michael Werwie’s script capturing the tense standoffs between Bundy and his accusers. Werwie’s approach in capturing this relationship in Bundy’s life has promise, as Efron and Lilly Collins share a few effective sequences throughout. The ending especially stands out, with the tense encounter building to an unnerving conclusion.
It’s a shame that this dynamic never end up having the nuance it should. Werwie and director Joe Berlinger capture Ted and Elizabeth’s relationship in a one-note manor, never conveying the deeply emotional bond at the core of their relationship. Seeing that dynamic erode throughout the trials should be heartbreaking, but it just falls flat. It’s a shame that Collins character ends up taking a back seat amongst the courtroom chaos, as her performance effectively captures Elizabeth’s inner-turmoil.
Considering this is a film about a serial killer, it’s shocking that the final product feels so sanitized. I respect the decision to minimally show Bundy’s crimes, but Berlinger’s film rarely captures the weight of the character’s actions. That and ham-fisted attempts at subtext involving Bundy’s adoring fans leaves Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile’s audience wanting more.