‘Extremely Wicked…’: Biopic gets it right (Review)

Film: “Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile” (Netflix); Director: Joe Berlinger; Cast: Zac Efron, Lily Collins; Rating: **** (4 stars)

In a very strange, stirring and refreshing departure from convention, director Joe Berlinger’s saga of real-life American serial killer Ted Bundy gets it right. Bundy, played with disquieting charm by Zac Efron, reportedly killed over 30 women during the 1960s and 1970s until he was finally sentenced to death in Florida by a judge (played with unostentatious brilliance by John Malkovich) who describes Bundy in the words that form the title of this engaging and disturbing film.

But the film on Bundy’s vile life doesn’t get gruesome on us. Until the final blow in the closing moments when for the first time we see the charming Bundy doing not-so-charming things to a woman. We just hear about Bundy being the prime suspect in countless killings across the US. On screen we see this enormously likeable ladies man.

There is the love of Bundy’s life Liz, played with a tragic inevitability by Lily Collins. At the end, when Bundy has nowhere to run to any more, Liz rightly wonders why she, and her daughter, were spared and in fact genuinely loved by the killer. Could it be because Liz was the fulcrum of normalcy, that other life which Bundy seems to lead, while he’s actually living another dark and sinister life?

Questions such as these are stared in their face with no venom but plenty of vitality by the stark yet gentle writing in this dramatic yet elegiac film about a charming man whose dormant nastiness is as elusive to apprehend as it is to comprehend.

Many moments in the elegantly edited, smartly narrated story had me enthralled. The blend of regret and menace in this film is unique. Then there is Zac Efron. He is so apt, so bang-on as the endearing psychopath.

At the end after he is sentenced to death, Efron’s chilling statement on the distance between the man who killed all those women and the one who stands in the court, endorses Efron’s exceptional performance. It also offers us a vivid glimpse into the culture of subliminal sadism where violence is seen as a part of another life nothing to do with the civil life that an individual leads.

Indeed, this film will make you wonder why some people enjoy hurting others when there is so much to love everywhere.

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