Friday 24 May 2019

Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile review: 'Zac Efron gives an extraordinary turn in an ordinary film'

3 stars

A picture of domestic bliss: Zac Efron, Macie Carmosino and Lily Collins in Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, and Vile
A picture of domestic bliss: Zac Efron, Macie Carmosino and Lily Collins in Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, and Vile

Chris Wasser

That title is a bit of a mouthful. Indeed, Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile refers to comments made by Judge Edward Cowart in the summer of 1979.

Cowart (portrayed here by John Malkovich) was the man who sentenced Ted Bundy — one of America’s most notorious serial killers — to death, and in doing so, delivered an extraordinary statement, the entirety of which is reconstructed in this admirable if somewhat uneven dramatisation.

The always watchable Zac Efron takes the lead as Theodore Robert Bundy, a handsome charmer and one-time law student who, in 1969, meets a single mother named Liz (Lily Collins) in a Seattle bar. Romance ensues, and a couple of happy home videos play out over news reports of gruesome kidnappings and murders of young women in America.

The message is clear. At home, Ted played the part of loving partner and father. But out on the road, well, the clue is in the title. There is no gore here. We’re in My Friend Dahmer territory, instead — which is to say that Extremely Wicked… is more interested in the person behind the atrocities, than in reconstructing the grisly details. Oh, and this is actually more of a courtroom drama than a dread-inducing thriller.

Zac Efron stars as Ted Bundy
Zac Efron stars as Ted Bundy

Based on Elizabeth Kloepfer’s memoir, The Phantom Prince: My Life with Ted Bundy, the film boasts a strong cast and a fascinating set-up. Unfortunately, it never takes off. Sketchy, scrappy and surprisingly soulless, what we have here is a story that touches on everything but moves far too fast to explore anything.

Directed by Joe Berlinger, perhaps Extremely Wicked… is meant to be viewed as a companion piece to Berlinger’s other Bundy project (Netflix’s Conversations with a Killer).

Still, we should be thankful for Efron, whose unsettling performance as a man who seemed to genuinely believe his own lies, leaves a mark. It’s an extraordinary turn in an ordinary film.

(Cert: 16) In theatres and on Sky Cinema/ NOW TV from today.

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