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Zac Efron The ted bundy movie on Netflix films, interview conversations with a killer

Check out the official Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile trailer starring Zac Efron!

Zac Efron's Ted Bundy movie surely loves Ted Bundy

Highly Wicked, Shockingly Cruel, and Disgusting weren't morally confused.

Why Incredibly Wicked, Shockingly Cruel, and Vile, starring Zac Efron as Ted Bundy's infamous serial killer?

I want to tell you. Director Joe Berlinger is evidently intrigued by Bundy, who brutalized at least 30 young women in the 1970s (before his execution in 1989, Bundy admitted to kidnapping, raping and killing many of his victims, many of whom are unknown). In addition to this feature, Berlinger directed Netflix's four-part documentary series Conversations With a Murderer, which also focuses on Bundy and heavily relies on documented interviews he gave during his 1980s jail.

Netflix streams both the documentary series and the feature film premiered at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival. It's a lot of time spent on any subject, let alone someone whose story is as well-known and gruesome as Bundy's.

Highly Wicked, Shockingly Bad, and Vile take their title from the judge's pronouncement while sentencing Bundy in 1979 for the murders of several young women—although it's worth remembering that the same judge has said that Bundy was a talented young man who would have made a great lawyer.

Zac Efron The ted bundy movie
Zac Efron The ted bundy movie

Often it seems that might even be the view of the movie. Highly Wicked has no additional insights; Bundy got away with a lot because he was gorgeous and charming. The women who loved him couldn't believe he'd do the horrible things he was accused of. It's not Ted! But they were wrong!

And And... It's that. That's video. Highly Wicked, Shockingly Cruel, and Disgusting are morally wrong-headed—more on that below—but it's also so deeply lacking any insight that it's hard to believe it's greenlit in an age like ours. Pop media today is steeped in wildly popular real crime podcasts and films, the best of which often dissect their subject matter and try to draw conclusions about its greater cultural meaning. There are several ways to retold Ted Bundy's well-worn tale of intent and intellect. Highly evil isn't.

But Ted Bundy's story should have made some things for an informative film and much better drama. Here are three angles the film should have used to make it worthwhile.

Choice 1: Testing young women's obsession with serial killers

Bundy's 1979 trial was the first nationally televised trial in U.S. history, and young women tended to watch in droves. This was, objectively, very odd as Bundy was charged with raping and killing two young women at Florida State University's Chi Omega sorority house, assaulting two more and attacking a nearby young woman after he left.

Yet young women were attracted to him anyhow—not because they believed he was innocent, but because they considered him charming and intriguing for his misogynist crimes. Bundy was educated, well-looking. That's just not a murderer's normal profile, or it wasn't in 1979.

Bundy got fan mail, naked videos, and marriage proposals in police custody. Of the women who flocked to his trial, some even dressed as his victims, all of whom fit a similar physical profile: long hair split in the middle, wearing earrings.

Highly Wicked touches on this creepy and unsettling obsession in a few scenes, with women saying they're not sure why they're attracted to Bundy but he doesn't seem like the kind of guy who would have committed those awful crimes. One of them, an old acquaintance of Bundy's named Carole Ann Boone (played by Kaya Scodelario), moved across the country to Florida to be near him during the trial, married him while she was standing as a character witness (the wedding was possible through an odd legal loophole) and bore his child, all depicted in the film.

And yet Incredibly Wicked easily pivots away from the concept of party delusion, though occasionally you can see Bundy's "groups" sitting in the courtroom. This is an immense lost opportunity: there is a long history of women who are drawn and intrigued by serial killers, a phenomenon that seems worth revisiting and examining against the current trend of podcasts such as My Favorite Murder and its predominantly female fan base, who call themselves "Murderinos." How groupies and Murderinos are related—or are not—is a question that is still mystifying.

But it didn't take the opportunity; instead the film gives Bundy its own curiosity. And that helps understand why it could not otherwise manage the promise of the plot.

Choice 2: Serial killers' "celebrification" indictment

Pop culture has often been involved in serial killers, even being celebrities. The resulting stories can probe psychology (Dexter) or the essence of evil (Hannibal).

But sometimes they're just stories (usually) about men who murdered people, and there's a really fine line between retelling their stories and glamorizing them. As Vox's true crime expert Aja Romano wrote in reviewing Berlinger's documentary series, many of today's true crime storytellers have made it their task to concentrate their work on the victims, telling the rich, intimate stories of those affected and creating them as actual human beings rather than just" victims.

However the documentary does not do this; Romano describes it as a "perfectly useful" introduction to the specifics of Bundy's crimes that "add little to the conversation"—and that's an appropriate definition of Extremely Evil, too. We hear almost nothing about the victims of Bundy; they disappear into a sea of pretty young women who fell prey to a dynamic, charismatic murderer.

In a documentary, that's bad; the effect is to strip women of their integrity in a way that's not wholly unlike what Bundy tried to do. But it could be worse in a feature film like Incredibly Wicked, Shockingly Cruel, and Disgusting, where a stunning movie star plays Bundy. The camera continuously draws close to Efron's face, lingering on his depiction of Bundy when he is more compassionate and funny and kind than concentrating on his brutal moments. You know he's bad, but the camera doesn't.

Nearly all the women in the film are either dumb stupid caricatures or victims. Carole Ann Boone is played as a duped fool. The plot arc tells us that Bundy is evil, but the craftsmanship of the film obviously admires its clever central character played by a good-looking A-lister. Ultimately, a cruel man who didn't think twice about the dignity of the women he killed always gets the emphasis.

Option 3: A sweet portrait of a woman who loved Bundy.

I don't think Incredibly Wicked, Shockingly Cruel, and Disgusting was supposed to concentrate on Ted Bundy. It starts as a film about Elizabeth Kendall, or Liz (played by Lily Collins), Bundy's ex-girlfriend whose 1981 book The Phantom Prince: My Life With Ted Bundy serves as the source material for the film.

Kendall (who wrote The Phantom Prince under a pseudonym, instead of her real name, Elizabeth Kloepfer) was a single mother when she met Bundy in 1969, and he swept off her feet: a perfect gentlemen, eventually a law student, who cared for her and her daughter as the two planed together for their future lives.

And Liz is the film framing unit. She's there at the beginning, and she's there at the end, too, trying to get Ted to tell her the truth even after being sentenced to death row and going on with her life.

Obviously Incredibly Wicked doesn't find Liz very interesting. It's not about telling us all about her life before Ted. We know nothing about her apart from him. She's gone for entire parts of the film, and for a huge stretch in the middle she's gone to nothing, watching the televised trial, waiting by phone. At one point, she tells a friend that when he's not with her, she feels like she's nothing—and it seems like Incredibly Wicked agrees.

Yet in defending the film against accusations that it "glamorizes" Bundy, Berlinger said it's only supposed to be a cautionary tale about how easily it can be taken in by someone like Bundy, how attractive and charming and well-educated a serial killer can be.

"If you're actually watching the movie, the last thing we're doing is glorifying it," Berlinger said in a Bustle interview. "At the end, he gets his due, but we portray the experience of how one becomes a victim of psychopathic seduction."

It's a good idea, but the film doesn't. Liz's experience in the audience isn't the same as ours—we know who this guy is from the start—and we're just watching a duped woman get more duped. She's seduced by Bundy's compassion and what often seems like sincere affection for her. At the end of the film, we have no more insight than we did in his tactics at the beginning, or whether he loved her or was able to love her at all.

At most, we learn that it really hurts when your stunning and attentive fiancé becomes the most successful and heinous serial killer of the century.

Indeed, I think we'd be great as a society if we never made another Ted Bundy movie. There are other tales to share, other figures to probe insight into American culture, stories to tell other victims. But if you're going to make a movie trying to tell such a popular story again, you must explain the nature of that movie. And Exceedingly Wicked gives the distinct impression that it finds Bundy much more interesting than anyone in his hands.

Zac Efron and Lily Collins, cast of Extremely Wicked Shockingly Evil and Vile - the Ted Bundy movie told from the POV of his long time girlfriend Elizabeth Kloepfer - break down a scene, shot by shot. "Extremely Wicked" now streaming on Netflix.

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