- 10 May 19
Examination of notorious killer perpetuates its own critique.
Directed by Joe Berlinger. Starting Zac Efron, Lily Collins, Haley Joel Osment, Kaya Scodelario, John Malkovich. 108 mins. In cinemas now.
It was a sad day when Netflix was forced to issue a statement, asking viewers of Joe Berlinger’s documentary Conversations With A Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes to stop tweeting about how attracted they were to the world’s most infamous serial killer. Yet Bundy’s good looks and charm were part of his deeply disturbing legacy. He tapped into one of our deepest fears: that evil doesn’t always look monstrous, so we won’t know to avoid it.
No-one felt this more acutely than Bundy’s ex-girlfriend, Liz Kendall (aka Elizabeth Kloepfer), who had been with Bundy for five years when he was arrested in connection to a series of vicious, sadistic murders of young women. Liz’s plight is fascinating and culturally important, as she struggles to grapple with a question currently dominating social discourse: how we can reconcile our image of a person we love with the possibility that they have committed unthinkable acts?
Berlinger sets up his film to examine this complex and distressing emotional process, which involves denial, disbelief, self-blame and survivor’s guilt. The film opens as the two young lovers, played by Lily Collins and Zac Efron, meet, with Berlinger juxtaposing Bundy’s tender romantic overtures towards Liz with reports of women going missing.
But Liz’s perspective soon becomes a secondary strand in the director’s recreation of Bundy’s multiple arrests, prison escapes and trial, leaving Collins with little to do but look pained and wan. Efron, in contrast, gets to play with Bundy’s charm, arrogance, manipulative skills and impenetrable ego. The actor is brilliantly smarmy and audacious, his façade of control never dropping – although this perspective switch does dilute Berlinger’s message about Bundy’s public image. As we become increasingly privy to his private moments, the lack of either psychological insight or depiction of his crimes – the disturbing details of which are largely withheld – feels like Bundy’s ego and good looks are just being given another platform.
Solid performances and assured directing make Extremely Wicked an engaging watch, but it’s too close to the glamourising spectacle it’s supposed to critique.