Catherine Gagulashvili copy editor
Let’s stop romanticizing murderers.
Since January, there have been several pieces about Ted Bundy, a serial killer who managed to evade the police for his crimes, including raping and brutally murdering over 30 women, that have been released on Netflix, most recently the movie “Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile.” The movie is about Bundy from the perspective of his long-term girlfriend, Elizabeth Kloepfer, played by Lily Collins, who refused to believe what was accused of him. The pieces of media have been met with a lot of intrigue and general fascination from the general public. As humans, we are compulsively fascinated by those who are abnormal, so an interest in learning more about an individual who killed mass numbers of people is understandable. What, however, is absolutely inexcusable is the blatant near-justification of Bundy’s crimes through his charming portrayal by Zac Efron.
There isn’t a problem with the fact that these documentaries and movies come out. They are educational and serve as insightful looking-glasses into an interesting individual. The problem is created with how they are told. The debut trailer for the movie, for example, is reminiscent of a teen beach movie, complete with the guitar riffs and a former Disney star in the lead. The trailer is jarring in that it fails to present Bundy as a notorious killer, but rather, it alludes to him being a morally-challenged rockstar, blurring the lines between protagonist and antagonist.
The second trailer, after the first received criticism for being too casual, aimed to take on a more serious tone. Director Joe Berlinger spoke of how Bundy didn’t fit the classic serial killer trope, and that was what made him interesting to make a movie about. Efron made an effort to clarify the movie was meant to be a “psychological study” of who Bundy was, not a celebration of him. This claim, however, isn’t entirely backed up, as the movie does little to render Bundy as the true villain he was. The overlap between Berlinger’s direction and Efron’s acting seem as though they too fall victim to Bundy’s alleged charm.
The film takes a personal insight into Bundy’s life by telling his story adjacent to life with his girlfriend and her daughter. While this creates a new narrative, unlike one that has been seen before, the need to see the intimacy of Bundy’s life is questionable. It’s worth asking, why should this side of a notorious murderer even be made public? In essence, it’s similar to someone bringing up the fact that Hitler was a vegetarian–in the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t really matter if they engaged in classically “good” acts, they were ultimately bad people. Seeing a conventionally normal aspect of Bundy at the beginning of the movie serves little purpose except to enthrall the watcher, confusing him/her into thinking Bundy is the protagonist of the film. The movie paints a picture of a relatable and personable man, doing little to counter this testimony and actually show him as an evil human being. The film, while it does depict scenes in which Bundy is a blatantly evil person (i.e. him decapitating a woman), portrays him as suave and charming in the courtroom and in prison. It portrays him as the determined law student, who is constantly pleading that he is innocent and that he’ll find a way to escape this “incorrect” situation. This depiction could be argued as historically accurate, as people of that time had a difficult time condemning him for cruel acts because he seemed charmingly presentable. But, it isn’t appropriate to use this as the primary depiction of Bundy. He murdered people. That should be the point that is impressed into the viewers’ minds; instead, it’s easy to watch the film and be left with mixed feelings. There should be no room left for grey areas: he killed people, and it should be left at that.
The concept of “Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile” is outstanding, no doubt. The execution (no pun intended) of it, however, is disappointing as it fails to really capture the disgusting mind of a mass murderer. Highlights would rate this movie a 1.5/5 and would only recommend it to those that have a full day to waste, as it’s difficult to watch this movie for more than 20 minutes at a time.