Zac Efron's performance has been widely applauded following the Sundance premiere, but how does the movie stack up?
Having premiered at the Sundance Film Festival this weekend, the first reviews for Ted Bundy film Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile have emerged online.
The film, which stars Zac Efron as Bundy, details the notorious killer’s crimes, trial and subsequent incarceration. Lily Collins features in the movie as Bundy’s girlfriend Liz, while Metallica’s James Hetfield also makes a cameo appearance as arresting officer Bob Hayward.
Now, after its official trailer was unveiled on Friday (January 25), initial reactions to the movie have been published – with the majority of critics praising Efron’s performance.
In a three-star review, The Guardian‘s Benjamin Lee says Efron’s portrayal of Bundy is “career-changing”, “remarkably accomplished” and “fiercely committed”.
“As Bundy, [Efron] ruthlessly weaponises the boyish charm that’s propelled much of his career, slyly convincing us of the spell he cast, not only on Liz but the many other women who were fighting his corner, sure of his innocence.”
However, Lee describes the movie itself as a “drab” affair, concluding: “It’s a star vehicle that starts and ends with its star, the film around him struggling to justify its existence. Efron is wicked, the film less so.”
Chris Evangelista of Slash Film had a similar opinion in his 7/10 review, saying that Efron “nails down the part in an absolutely eerie way” with a “transformative performance”.
“Efron takes on Bundy’s mannerisms perfectly, to the point where it no longer feels like we’re watching Efron – we’re watching Bundy resurrected from the grave,” he adds.
Taking issue with the movie’s script, Evangelista says: “The film should’ve stuck entirely to Elizabeth’s POV – that’s where the heart of Extremely Wicked really lies. It’s strange that [Joe Berlinger, director] and company never seem to realize that. This should’ve ultimately been the story of Elizabeth Kloepfer, and her journey to reclaim her life after being manipulated for so many years. Instead, Ted Bundy steals the show.”
The Collider‘s Adam Chitwood describes the film as “a fascinating look at the confounding contrast between Bundy’s seemingly genuine affection for Elizabeth and the inhuman and sickening acts he perpetrated against dozens of other women.”
On Efron’s “best performance of his career thus far”, he says: “He imbues Bundy with an undeniable charm and likability, but never tipping the scales into glorifying the man. What’s brilliant about Efron’s performance is how he subtly lets the audience in on the façade that Bundy s putting up. You can see he’s charming, sure, but you can also tell that hiding right underneath that smirk is a wealth of anxiety and anger.”
In a C+ review, The Film Stage‘s Jordan Raup says that “it takes about half the film for [Efron] to convincingly fall into place, but it ultimately makes for slyly smart headline-making casting”.
However, he also detects problems within the direction, saying: “It’s as if Berlinger himself, like the media, got so caught up in the charm of Efron as Bundy that he loses the foundation of Liz’s point of view and fully invests in the spectacle. While that makes for some intriguing meta-commentary, it doesn’t make for a strong film.”
Little White Lies‘ review echoes this, saying: “Zac Efron gives the performance of his career in a film which only scratches the surface of its subject.”
The publication’s critic Hannah Woodhead concludes: “It’s evident that Berlinger’s intention is to highlight the dangerous charismatic sociopathy of Bundy, and the ways in which monsters are often hidden in plain sight, but it fails to show us anything about Bundy that isn’t already there in archive footage (which also appears at the end of the film), and only scratches the surface of the true depravity its subject was capable of.”
In a less than favourable review, The Playlist‘s Rodrigo Perez says: “A superficial tale about the casualty at the centre of the story, ‘Extremely Wicked,’ rings hollow and false and is really just as interested in the sensational and salacious as any other reductive thriller. Though perhaps, to the injudicious eye, does a better job of disguising it than the average film.”
Unlike other critics, Perez isn’t as convinced by Efron’s performance – describing his appearance as “a stunt casting move that somewhat works, but just doesn’t always quite fit”.
We Live Entertainment‘s Ashley Menzel was more impressed with Extremely Wicked… overall.
She hails the film as “a mesmerizing tale of a charismatic man and the enchanting nature of his charm despite the monster that lived inside of him”
“Efron gives a performance that could change the rest of his career and leaves the audience stunned.”
A cinematic release date for Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, And Vile has yet to be confirmed, but is expected to be announced soon.