Thoughts on Film: “Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, and Vile”

This evening, as my husband is away and I have some alone time, I figured I may as well watch the new Joe Berlinger film that has the true crime community (and beyond) talking. I haven’t read any reviews or hot-takes on it yet, so I wanted to get my first impressions down here before being influenced and while it is still fresh in my mind.

Oh, by the way, for those that may not know, this is a film starring Zac Efron as Ted Bundy and Lily Collins as Liz Kendall (Elizabeth Kloepfer), who was Bundy’s fiancée at the time of his arrest.

The murders committed by Bundy do not appear on screen in this film. Aside from a single quick shot, in fact, I do not recall seeing any violence committed by Efron’s Bundy. The perspective we’re mainly getting is that of Liz.

I am not a scholar of Ted Bundy’s cases, although I have a passing knowledge of who he is and what he did. I found it interesting to get the perspective of his then fiancée. Efron and Collins did a nice job of showing why and how their relationship blossomed, and how difficult it was for Liz to eventually come to grips with the reality of Bundy’s actions.

Liz is portrayed as a woman who really did not seem to think she deserved to have the love of a great guy, largely due to the fact that she was a single mother. Bundy apparently was not put off at all by her child, and seemed to embrace the idea of having a little family together. To her mind, a nice guy who treated her well and would be there for her daughter was a dream scenario. Of course, this did not pan out, to say the least.

While I would say that, overall, I liked this movie, I do have a couple of points I’d like to quibble with.

First – I know that the writers used Elizabeth Kloepfer’s book for the screenplay. But, the revelation that she had called the police to tell them that Bundy looked like the sketch of a kidnapping suspect seen on TV – this felt sort of abrupt, because I didn’t feel that any signs of distrust or suspicion from Liz were depicted up to this point. It just looks like a happy dream couple up until the arrest…then we suddenly find out that she had called the police on him a long time before? It just seems that there must have been a reason, more than him vaguely resembling a sketch and being out at the time, that she would entertain the thought that the man she was in a relationship with could have kidnapped two women, and that reason is not portrayed.

The other issue is something I know that many others also have a problem with – the sexualizing of Bundy. This portrayal of him as some sort of Casanova who all of the ladies lined up for.

This is not entirely the fault of this film – Bundy has been portrayed that way by the media since the beginning. The girls showing up in the courtroom to watch the proceedings added to this idea.

But, really, that happens with a lot of high-profile trials; Richard Ramirez, Scott Peterson, and others had women showing up to see them as well. Bundy was nothing special, and I have no doubt that many women find him as smarmy and creepy as I do.

Zac Efron. It’s not his fault that he is more attractive than Bundy was, and I think, generally, he really did a good job in this role. But I feel that some of the directing choices (and, perhaps, some issues with his acting?) were 1.) Making Bundy appear more charming than he actually was, and 2.) Making Bundy look hotter than he actually was, to put it plainly.

I can’t tell if this is a directing issue or an acting issue, but I did not see the same quaking, “moments from snapping” man that I see when watching the real Ted Bundy in news footage. The real Ted Bundy stutters, blinks excessively, averts his eyes when speaking to people, visibly loses his temper in court. He is scary. Efron’s Bundy, to me, seems far more sympathetic and far less frightening.

This makes it a lot easier to further the deeply problematic “dangerous dreamboat” image that Bundy has had for years. The lack of violence depicted in the film achieves an interesting point of view, especially where Liz is concerned, but it allows the viewer to get lost in her view of him (at least, her apparent view of him at the time), as opposed to the reality of him.

The reality is, of course, beyond-the-pale violence, brutality, and necrophilia.

Come to think of it, do we ever look back and wonder why media back then, or even more recently, go on and on about Bundy’s handsomeness and charm? I think that the underlying root of it has more to do with his middle-class-white-conservative-suit-wearing-guy veneer. They didn’t expect someone like him (i.e. – not a “minority,” not a crazed homeless man, not a drug dealer, not any of the other stereotypes of violent people) to do such awful things. He didn’t need to be especially handsome for them to be so surprised.

All that is to say – I am not a fan of the whole “Hot-Bundy” frame of the story.

So, overall, I’d call it “Pretty Good, with Some Caveats.”

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