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Sunday, April 14, 2019

AFF '19: EXTREMELY WICKED, SHOCKINGLY EVIL, AND VILE provides a unique and fascinating perspective

With recent true crime series like Kidnapped in Plain Sight and Leaving Neverland, the conversation afterwards always steers towards, "How did they really not see what was going on?" This is a difficult question; from an outside perspective, it seems impossible that we wouldn't see through a pedophile or sociopath's motives right away, but to the victims it often isn't so easy. That is the perspective that Joe Berlinger's Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, and Vile aims to explore while looking at the specific case of serial killer Ted Bundy.

The film takes place mostly from Liz Kendall's (Lily Collins) perspective, Bundy's longtime girlfriend. We see how they meet and how their romance grows, and how difficult it is when Bundy first gets arrested. Extremely Wicked doesn't always stay directly with Liz, but always maintains the illusion that Bundy created for those around him: that it is just a legal misunderstanding, that he is being railroaded as a way for police to close a bunch of murder cases.

This is a unique and refreshing perspective for a true crime film. It doesn't glorify the killings, because it essentially never shows them at all. The focus is more on how he spun the situation to those around him, creating the strange phenomena of young women turning up at his trials to support him despite the allegations. In a way, this is far more horrifying than the specific killings, since it shows exactly how we might not suspect a loved one even when the evidence seems overwhelming.

The performances in the two leads of Zac Efron and Lily Collins are strong. Efron pulls off the charm and cleverness of Bundy quite well, so much so that it almost makes you root for him as he makes his two prison escapes until you remember who he is. Collins gives a gut-wrenching performance that is pretty heartbreaking at times, and it is devastating to watch her learn the truth that we all know going into the story. John Malkovich as the judge presiding over Bundy's trial is perhaps the only miscast; I'm sure most of his dialogue comes directly from court transcripts, but Malkovich often makes them seem overly theatrical or even silly, sometimes taking me out of the movie.

If you're a true crime fanatic or are approaching the movie expecting to see Bundy's murders, you might be sorely disappointed. However, the climax is well worth the ride, and I found this to be a much more satisfying and fascinating look at a serial killer than just an account of his violent actions.

Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, and Vile is directed by Joe Berlinger and stars Zac Efron and Lily Collins. It releases in theaters and on Netflix on May 3rd.
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