Crime Over Sundance: Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile (2019)

Welcome to Criminal Element's Crime Over Sundance series, where we provide coverage of Sundance 2019 and preview crime films set to make the biggest splash this year.

Serial killers are supposed to be charming. That is how they lure in their victims. There was no better example than Ted Bundy, who was the living embodiment of sinister charm. He was so persuasive, he had his ex-girlfriend Liz Kloepfer at least half-convinced he was innocent of all the charges leveled against him. Their profoundly dysfunctional relationship is the focus of Joe Berlinger’s Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile, the companion narrative film to his Netflix documentary, which screens during the 2019 Sundance Film Festival.

At first, Kloepfer considers Bundy her Prince Charming. He treats her like a queen and her little girl like his own daughter. Oh, by the way, a couple of young women have gone missing in the Seattle area around this time. Eye-witnesses claim the presumed killer drives a Volkswagen Bug, just like Bundy. However, it will be Utah that first convicts Bundy for an attempted abduction. From Kloepfer’s perspective (which is that of the audience), this seems horribly unfair. The cops picked up Bundy based on a dubious anonymous tip and they proceeded to lead their witness shamelessly.

Then Aspen, Colorado and Florida extradite Bundy for a number of murders. Just like in Utah, Bundy always seems to have credible explanations, but Kloepfer starts to doubt him. Even worse, she becomes plagued with guilt for not doing anything to stop him sooner—if indeed he was the killer (SPOILER ALERT: yes, he was).

Extremely, Etc., Etc. will make audiences squirm with discomfort, because up until the final coda, it maintains the pretense that maybe there is something to Bundy’s arguments after all. It seems like Berlinger falls for Bundy’s charm, right along with Kloepfer. It must be conceded, Zac Efron delivers it in spades. It would be a shame if the quality of his performance is lost amid the noise and outrage likely to surround Berlinger’s portrait. He is both edgy and charismatic, in ways that keep us uncertain as to what we are supposed to think, one way or the other.

A fascinating what-were-they-thinking muddle

There is no question Efron overshadows everyone, most definitely including Lily Collins, who is problematically mousy and passive as Kloepfer (especially since this is supposed to be her story). Kaya Scodelario fares better as the in-denial torch-carrying Carole Anne Boone. It is a distinctively twitchy performance, even if the (fact-based) character inspires even greater face-palms. However, watching Efron’s Bundy spar with the great John Malkovich playing Florida judge Edward Cowart might just justify the price of admission.

Frankly, it looks like Berlinger got so caught up in his film, he lost control and perspective, which makes it interesting and messy, but isn’t necessarily a source of merit. It is a film you have to see if you happen to be covering Sundance, because it will be hotly debated, but consumers can safely save money and wait for it to hit a streaming platform. A fascinating what-were-they-thinking muddle, Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile screens as part of this year’s Sundance Film Festival.

 

*images courtesy of Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile / Sundance

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