Saturday, May 4, 2019

Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile

By sati (harlequinade) Saturday, May 4, 2019 , , , , , , , ,
Ted Bundy is one of the most famous American serial killers. In addition to the fact he killed so many women and in such a horrible way, he was one of those criminals who became pop-culture icons. The media was crazy about him, the women were falling in love with him and even after he was convicted, the media circus didn't stop. Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile (the title comes from the words the judge used to describe Bundy's crimes) takes a very interesting approach to Bundy's story in that it is told with a lot of restraint, not focusing on the nature of the crimes, but instead depicting how Bundy manipulated everyone around him.

The first trailer for the film did it a huge disservice because not only was it quite vulgar considering the gravity of the subject matter, but it was false marketing. This is not a loud, violent film. It's a character study. I see a lot of disappointment and confusion among people who saw the movie about the fact it didn't focus on graphic details of Bundy's crimes. The documentary, also made by Berlinger, was the same - if you were looking for morbid details, you wouldn't find many there. The film doesn't even show Bundy kill anyone, other than in a flashback where he is about to. I think this was a clever approach to take - we all know human imagination conjures things far worse than any movie scenes could and having Jim Parsons' character talk about the details of the crimes in the courtroom was enough.
By taking this approach the movie never fully shows just what a horrific monster Bundy was. Here's the thing - did it have to? Isn't it enough to see the names of his victims in the final frame of the movie? Isn't that enough to call him a despicable monster? It should and it is enough. And in today's world any movie that shows restraint in depicting violence against women should be commended not criticized. This is the wold where women have to put up with so much. This is the world where men have fits of anger and rage over something as normal as a female led superhero movie. I'd say if you were to feature any scenes depicting violence targeting women you better have a good reason for it and telling the story of a killer would be one. But Berlinger shows that you can effectively tell such a story without any scenes depicting the killings. The question people are posing shouldn't be "why didn't it show violence?" it should be "why did it?".In fact it's very disturbing how many people use the fact that we didn't see graphic murders against this movie, claiming it is a flaw. It's not the problem with the movie, it's the problem with the people claiming this is a bad thing.

By taking this approach Berlinger paints a unique portrait of Bundy in the public's eye - the people who followed the case on television didn't see all the crime scenes photos, they knew only of the details revealed in the trial (which was the first televised trial in US history). So if you didn't know much about this story before watching this film, you know what they know. It is only in final minutes when the movie takes the definitive stand in "was he guilty or not?" debate. And all the claims that the movie glamorizes Bundy are preposterous - Efron does resemble Bundy and isn't it always the case that the actors are better looking than the real people they are portraying? Those women on the gallery smiling at him? Those women who believed he must be innocent because he was charming? This all actually happened.
Efron does incredible job imitating Bundy - a lot of the events we see in the film were also featured in the documentary and it's uncanny how similar his mannerisms are. But Efron also manages to insert those little details in his performance that suggest his character is far more sinister than his girlfriend suspects - the fact his eyes linger on her just a bit too long for it to be a normal behavior or how he tries so hard to fit in and how he comes off completely desperate while he tries. Then there are other instances planting the clues that he is not innocent, like him practicing fake smile as he is about to be pulled over by the police.

Of course we know Bundy was guilty but the film doesn't definitely state that until the end and the filmmakers do an amazing job in showing how easy it was to get fooled by him. We only see the glimpse behind the curtain of lies in final scenes when Bundy starts to crack in front of Liz and Efron shows the caged rage and frustration ready to explode and annihilate whatever stands in the way, but this time it's the law enforcement finally stopping him from doing so.
The film does feel like two different movies at times - one showing Bundy's fight to prove his innocence and another focusing on Liz, his girlfriend, whose life is falling apart because of him. It's admirable of Berlinger to decide to focus on this woman and show her tragedy, but there wasn't enough of her story to fill the entire film, while Bundy's courtroom exploits could serve as material for hours of countless movies. It was an interesting approach, though and it works very well in the film's last minutes when Liz remembers all the happy times with Ted and realizes there was something sinister in all of them. Unfortunately, it makes the film feel disjointed and it would have been better if it focused on only one of those perspectives, instead of continuously switching between Liz and Ted.

I thought another interesting approach would be to show the events entirely from the perspective of Carol Anne Boone, a woman who was in love with Bundy and followed him to Florida to help him with the trial and the media's perception of him. The proposal scene actually happened in real life and Boone did have Bundy's child and kept visiting on the death row. It would be interesting to see what happened to her after he was executed but I guess Berlinger wanted to respect her privacy.
The film features wonderful performances - Lily Collins is fantastic as  Liz, Scodelario does an amazing job balancing between obsessed and vulnerable as Carol and John Malkovich, who is seemingly owned by Netflix the way he pops up in their films, is terrific as the judge presiding over the case. Then there is Jim Parsons who never really gets to deliver anything too different from his work in The Big Bang Theory but he always brings charm and charisma and his delivery of "You've gotta be shitting me!" is a wonderfully funny moment.

While Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile feels a bit unfocused at times, it should be commended for the approach that was taken here. It didn't go for the easy way, it didn't show brutality and gore, which would no doubt attract a lot of attention to the film and Efron's performance. Instead it focused on telling the story and exploring the facade that protected the monster and drew so many to him. It's a very original way to tell such a story and hopefully more directors take such a route instead of bombarding us with scenes that belong in torture porn.
74/100 (USA, 2019, 110 min)
Plot: A courtroom frenzy ensues and sweeps 1970s America when a young single mother reluctantly tips the attention of a widespread manhunt toward her longtime boyfriend, Ted Bundy.
Director: Joe Berlinger
Writers: Elizabeth Kendall (based on the book "The Phantom Prince: My Life with Ted Bundy" by), Michael Werwie
Stars: Lily Collins, Zac Efron, Angela Sarafyan

17 comments:

  1. I think the restraint the film took in regards to the violence was a brilliant choice. You almost always expected it, and it never happened, and you only saw it in the news segments, and during the trial. It's almost as if you were witnessing it happening through a haze.
    And totally agree about the approach showing the "public's eye" perspective. Because that approach also kind of muddles your own view on Bundy. Not seeing the violence, you're more focused on his way of showing himself to the world, as somebody innocent. Which is disturbing because you sort of believe it at times. Not because you believe Bundy to be innocent, but because the movie shows you the perspective those young girls kept seeing. And you can't help to believe it for a flicker of time.
    You know I liked this one more than you did but I agree with you that it felt a little here and there at times. I would have loved to follow more Bundy but at the same time, I'm all for keeping the mystery. It's also a very difficult topic to portray on film, and I think Berlinger did a wonderful job in finding a new, almost a fresh way in doing so.
    All of us who saw it yesterday loved Zac's performance. He was wonderful, and every time I see Lily Collins, I fall a little bit more in love with her. She is so underrated.
    Nice review as always!

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    1. It's actually really believable because the cops really were out to get him, for right reasons but still they used stupid methods. The mistakes made by law enforcement back then would probably lead to him being acquitted in many countries in the world today because of the evidence being tainted. It's unthinkable the cops would show the witness a picture of a suspect before the line up or the detective would walk int he prison fishing for information like that

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    2. Imagine that.. him being free.. yikes.

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    3. He kept escaping because of shitty security and thats how he ended up killing those girls in Florida :/

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  2. Berlinger’s approach, him leaving out the violence and details of Bundy’s crimes, was one my favorite things about this film as the film’s purpose is to show how good Ted was at manipulating people and that’s exactly what it does.

    As for Efron being handsome, wasn’t Bundy too though? Also, his performance is terrific in this so I don’t really get why people keep complaining about that.

    Great review!

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    1. Bundy was handsome comparing to who people thought as an image of a killer. I think majority of people comparing about Zac are just dudes being jealous :)

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  3. Interesting cast! This one hasn't seen the light of day over on Netflix Asia, but I'm looking forward to seeing it. True crime adaptations that take the character study approach are far more compelling than the ones that focus on the graphic murders. Great review. :)

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    1. Thank you! I hope you like it when you get to see it!

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  4. I didn't have qualms with the film restraining the violence, but I don't think it did much justice padding it. I keep reading all over the Internet that people are actually like "I thought he seemed innocent at times!" Obviously, those people are morons, and they're reflecting that idiotic side of the phenomenon that believed his charm....I just wanted a little more from the movie, you know? The angle it took wasn't my favorite. Great review though! I think you liked this one a wee bit more than I did!

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    1. I mean he did seem innocent at times IF you didn't know the real story, but once the trial scenes begins it was really clear he was guilty

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  5. You bring up a good point about Carol Anne, I was expecting to learn way more about her. Like you, I'm glad they didn't show anything gruesome. You're right about Parsons talking about it being enough. I wouldn't have watched it otherwise.

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    1. Yeah it would be too much, I do enjoy courtroom scenes in movies so I loved the way they did that in the movie

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  6. Well said! The trailer really does miss-sell it - I almost skipped it because of it to be honest but I'm glad I gave it a chance. I didn't know the ins and outs of Bundy or the trial but as baffling as it is I can see why he managed to dupe so many people!

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    1. Right? Especially back then when people couldn't imagine someone educated and handsome would do such things

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  7. I had no idea about this one! I admit I skimmed the review cosa I haven't seen it yet, but I shall rectify that. Yet ANOTHER film you have put me on to. I have lost count now!

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    1. I mentioned this movie at least 15 times in recent RFs tho.. :)

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  8. Hahaha ahh damn, that is another example of just how bad my memory is! I'm gonna watch this tonight

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