Films about real life serial killers are always going to be a tough one to broach, because the filmmaker really needs to consider the potential harm that could come from them exploring the truth that happened. It’s almost impossible that you would have managed to escape seeing the constant marketing around Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile, mostly due to the lead star being Zac Efron who is commonly known and loved for his rise to fame character Troy Bolton in the teenage film High School Musical. This movie is currently gaining a lot of attention, some positive and some negative; it’s one that is dividing audiences and causing real debates about how it’s been represented. But the question for me is; how should directors really approach films that could cause potential harm to the real life victims?

Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile comes from director Joe Berlinger who is known for his nonfiction films and series. This portrayal is focused on the infamous serial killer Ted Bundy, who committed some of the most atrocious acts known to man during the 70s. The film is based on a book that gives the details during this time from the viewpoint of his long-time girlfriend Liz, played by Lily Collins, who was deceived by Bundy’s charismatic personality and ongoing adamance of innocence regarding what he had been accused of. Extremely Wicked flitters back and forth between how Liz met Bundy, their life together and subsequently what happened during the trial and how she had to come to terms with the factuality that Ted might not be the man that she believed him to be.

The question that I posed earlier is the one that is really causing an outrage amongst the audience; did Berlinger ever really need to make this film? Do filmmakers ever need to really make films about people who are evil? The answer to these questions is never going to be a simple one because there are so many different aspects, emotions and personal preferences that have to be taken into consideration. One of the key points that we need to look at is the fact that modern day society is obsessed with serial killers. We love to hate them, and we do so very openly, but by hating them so openly we constantly keep them centre of attention, which many argue is exactly what a man like Ted Bundy would have wanted. Therefore with this fascination running through the veins of the majority of society, filmmakers are of course going to capitalise on it and make money from it. We can argue until we are blue in the face that there is a level of decency that has to be adhered to when creating films, but the truth of the matter is that in a world run by money, those who are creating films for entertainment are never going to brush aside an idea that has the potential to make a lot of money. And it is with that, that we have established the reasons behind why filmmakers decide to make movies that detail the lives and crimes of these disgraces to humankind.

Once we’ve moved past the fact that we will never be able to escape from films that have this type of topic, we need to examine how said topic should be approached. Many have argued that Extremely Wicked romanticises Ted Bundy and makes the audience feel that he is innocent of the crimes he committed. If you know who Bundy is before the movie, then feeling like he is romanticised proves more problems with the person watching than the film itself. There is no way you can be infatuated by a man that you know is so inherently evil. I understand that those who do not know the terrors behind the name Bundy, may feel conflicted as to whether or not he did what he did, but seeing as the film is supposed to be represented from the point of his partner Liz, it does make sense that the audience feel some of the emotions that she did during that time. Throughout the film we see how torn in two Liz constantly is; in her gut instinct she knows that Bundy is more than guilty for the atrocious acts against women, but his charisma, charm and devotion for her is a nearly unbreakable exterior that really is hard for her to push past. In order for the audience to connect with Liz’s character and understand the two-sided emotions she was experiencing, we also need to see Bundy as a man that had two sides with the dominant one being the charming persona that Liz saw. She was never privy to his monstrous nature, and therefore trying to begin to see him in that light would have been something that is too hard to even imagine. Therefore those that argue there was too much of his allure showing in the film seem to have missed the point that the audience are supposed to see him through Liz’s eyes and not the eyes that already know he is a beast.

Another reason that Extremely Wicked has been slammed is for the reasoning that it’s dull, drab and doesn’t give the audience any of the “nasty stuff”. When they refer to said nasty, they mean the murders that Bundy carried out… I have always been an advocate of extreme horror films; I like them raw, rough and as distasteful as possible, however that stops at a certain point. There are many other films that look at serial killers, but they are false and not an imitation of real killings that happened in the past. There is a level of respect that must be taken when depicting murders that happened in real life, and this is because the families of those involved would most likely find it a very sensitive topic and one that should not be glamourised through excessive sexual violence, gore and death. What happened to all of the victims of Ted Bundy was so despicable that words cannot give justice to that fact. There is no need to show in graphic detail the ordeals that those poor women had to endure, and even mentioning that there should have been more of this shows what an awful human being you are. Someone on a social media site argued with me that the film would have been far more entertaining and interesting if we had seen the brutal murders, a comment that outraged and disgusted me. When mentioning how this could negatively affect those related to the victims, the person in question merely stated that it did not matter because it was such a long time ago. Time may be classed as a healer, but time does not prohibit the pain that still surrounds what happened. The comment that the person gave was so carelessly positioned, without taking a moment to consider what that truly means for those that were affected during that period. Extremely Wicked doesn’t present itself that way; it looks at a different standview which is Liz’s, and gives the viewer the details of the trial without having to gratuitously show violence on-screen, except for one small part which is designed to show the shock that Liz felt when she finally understood the severity of what Bundy had done and how she had been deceived by him.
Extremely Wicked may not be to the tastes of every viewer for a variety of different reasons, yet it held my attention and provided a perspective that I hadn’t previously considered. Seeing his actions through the eyes of Liz was a devastating and heartbreaking understanding of how he manipulated everyone around him, and managed to take the lives of innocents without being suspected for so long purely because he had a personality that appealed to society’s wants.

2 thoughts

  1. A very interesting post. I agree, there does need to be a certain degree of sensitivity around the depiction of violence in the dramatisation of real life cases. Personally I would like to see more films told from the perspective of the victims, whose lives are often forgotten in the wake of the ‘fascinating’ serial killer.

  2. For me it definitely feels like a companion piece for the recent Netflix Bundy documentary. I liked this film but it’s kinda weird in its handling of Bundy’s actual crimes. The doc really does a good job of filling in those holes. Together they are a pretty compelling set.

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