I never anticipated I’d live to see the day when Zac Efron, my first childhood crush and pre-teen heartthrob for girls everywhere, would take on the role as prolific serial killer Ted Bundy. But he does just that in director Joe Berlinger’s “Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile,” a gripping new film about the crimes of Ted Bundy through the perspective of his wife. For those of you who have managed to avoid the public fascination with Ted Bundy and do not yet know who he is, he was a kidnapper, rapist, necrophile and serial killer who admitted to murdering 30 women in the seventies and is suspected to have killed many more.
Since the release of its trailer in January, “Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile” has sparked quite the controversy. Audiences have complained about a number of things, primarily the casting of Efron for Bundy, claiming his good looks play a part in romanticizing the infamous murderer. Before everyone tells me so, yes, I am fully aware that his intellect, charm and good looks are what made it possible for Bundy to get away with so much for so long. I have many concerns about the film, but the casting is not one of them. In fact, the casting is near perfect—Efron looks chillingly similar to Bundy, and the trailer indicates that the role may be his most impressive performance yet. However, I have other issues with the film and Bundy’s re-entrance into Hollywood’s spotlight.
I believe that Hollywood has at least some responsibility to release productive, artistic content that doesn’t harm viewers. I know that certain movies aren’t for everyone, but no movie should do more harm than good with its release. I’m not sure that Berlinger’s new drama fits those standards. Bundy’s story, while admittedly intriguing, is already widely known and continuously told in a harmful way that paints him as some kind of misunderstood, tortured antihero, leaving no spotlight for his victims and often excluding the grislier details of his murders. It has been made into countless documentaries and has served as the inspiration for at least seven different horror and drama movies. Bundy’s story shouldn’t be erased because, after all, he is one of the most prolific serial killers in history, but the way his story is told has to change.
Defenders of Berlinger’s latest film claim that Bundy is not being romanticized. While this may be true about the movie, it is not true about the general public. The film in itself, though it has not hit theaters yet, seems to portray Bundy accurately. However, I don’t doubt that its release will provoke a revival of widespread romanticization of the killer, which is why the production of the film is counterproductive and harmful. If you don’t believe that Bundy is already admired by the public, just google “Ted Bundy mugshot.” You’ll find that you can purchase it in the form of posters, coffee mugs, and even a beach towel. Ah, yes, nothing says summer like getting your tan on and laying atop your favorite Ted Bundy beach towel.
Arguably the most harmful part of “Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile” is that it’s told through the perspective of Bundy’s wife, the person who loved him the most. When the audience also views him through her distorted lens, they see him the way she saw him: in the best way possible. While I believe that some audience members can handle that and still understand the underlying horror of Bundy’s story, I do not trust all audience members—specifically teenage girls—to take each scene with a grain of salt.
Perhaps the most upsetting part about the Bundy obsession is that major film producers and streaming companies will likely make millions off of exploiting the brutal killings of innocent women. When you’re watching Zac Efron _____, it’s easy to forget that the families and loved ones of Bundy’s victims are alive and still deeply hurting. Imagine your sister, your mother or your friend being the victim of such unforgivable crimes and then having to sit and watch as teenage girls obsess over their killer and call him “fascinating.” There is no justification I can imagine for profiting off the tragic rapes and deaths of tens of women.
Girls, if you decide to go see this film or any production about Ted Bundy, I implore you to be prepared, cautious and understanding of what truly happened and who he really was. Ted Bundy was charming, handsome and smart, yes, but above all, he was heinous, demonic and profoundly evil, and that is the only way he should be remembered.