Directed by Joe Berlinger
Written by Elizabeth Kendall (based on the book The Phantom Prince: My Life with Ted Bundy) and Michael Werwie
Stars Lily Collins, Zac Efron, Angela Sarafyan, Haley Joel Osment
Running Time 1 hour 50 minutes
by Rosalie Kicks, Old Sport
“I’m more popular than Disneyworld.” - Zac Efron as Ted Bundy
Immediately following the Sundahhhhhce screening of Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile (aka the Ted Bundy flick) I almost died.
I am not being overly dramatic here. This is serious. Like life flashing before your eyes kind of serious. I do have to clarify one thing, as it is very important that I am completely honest with you, the reader and am seen as a trustworthy old sport. Before almost meeting my demise, I may have accidentally, willfully summoned the grim reaper. I know, I know, one should not mess with the angel of death. Of “corpse” I have a logical explanation for making a call to the darkside and I am sure most would find it to be extremely valid. Two words: ZAC EFRON.
Zac Efron plays Ted Bundy in Joe Berlinger’s biographical crime drama. For those not familiar with the infamous Bundy, he was a notorious serial killer responsible for at least thirty murders (these are the ones he confessed to, there are said to be more) across the country. Prior to watching this, I had only witnessed Zac on the silver screen in: Hairspray (No judging, but I kinda liked this - it was a really emotional time for me), Baywatch (NO.), and The Greatest Showman (Oh, HELL NO). I had no recollection of him even being in Hairspray until I revisited his filmography on IMDb. Point being, Efron is forgettable in most things he does. UNTIL! I saw him play Ted Bundy. I eerily found myself attracted to him. His character was so damn charming. Something had to be seriously wrong with me, I was ashamed, how could I fall for such a dude. A dude playing one of theeee notorious serial killer Ted Bundy. It was at this moment that I decided to make the call to the reaper.
En route to my next film I put my trust in the iPhone maps app which was my second mistake. My first mistake being that I did not listen to Best Boy before leaving for my Sundahhhhnce adventure and install Google maps on my phone, which apparently is a far superior directional wizard. Sigh. At least the sound of the navigator’s voice was pleasing. I’ve set Siri’s voice to Australian which I found to be extremely soothing and trustworthy. So when she told me to walk alongside a busy highway, I thought, “Sure, why not. She would never steer me wrong?”.
As I strolled along, I couldn’t help but think about the Bundy flick and how he would just pick up stray women hikers in his VW Beetle and then hit them over the head with a crowbar, and chuck them into the backseat like a sack of potatoes. This was easy for him to do, since he would remove the front seat from his car. I was lost in these nightmarish thoughts that it took me a moment to realize the road I was walking along, disappeared and I was now trudging through several feet of snow. This is where the story gets troubling. I looked across the way and I noticed a park with what appeared to be a pleasant and DRY walking path. Without hesitation I decided I would hop across. Would that it were so simple.
I instead plunged into an icy river, finding myself knee deep in frigid water. The snow being at about ten foot, it was piled high over my head, and as I tried to climb out, grasping to the bank, the snow continued to fall in. I started to panic. My mind started to race; this is how I was going to go and the last movie I saw was a Zac Efron picture. Seriously, he really was charming though - almost in a Cary Grant kind of way. Yep, I lost it. I couldn’t help but think of the Ted Bundy line from the movie, “You fell in love with a weirdo.”
Eventually I managed to grasp onto a twig (yes a frail limb of a tree) that fortunately was mighty and strong enough for me to pull myself out. I collapsed on the ground and absent mindedly started reciting, honestly more like chanting, “hail Marys”. Not even sure why, as I am not religious and have no clue what this means or does. As I staggered to my next screening, out of breath, soaking wet, and my lungs burning giving me the taste of blood in my mouth (the elevation is no joke in Utah), all I could think about what getting to the next film. Movies are all that matter.
OK. So I know that was a meandering way to talk about/review this movie, but I had to tell my story because my near death experience will always be connected with this movie. If I ever were to watch it again - who am I kidding, of course I will, Zac Attack is in it - I am sure I will find myself transported back to the icy creek. Here’s the thing though… This movie did manage to leave an impact on me in many other ways, specifically the idea of deception. On my plane ride home from Sundahhhce, I decided to purchase the book The Stranger Beside Me, written by one of Bundy’s former co-workers and close acquaintances, Ann Rule (RIP). I had to know more about this deranged fellow, specifically how he was able to charm and trick so many people into believing he was a swell guy.
This was an element of the story that I feel they left out, which was disappointing to me. The film does not dive into much of Ted’s past. Although, the film is filled with great performances, like from Lily Collins who plays, Ted Bundy’s long time girlfriend and eventual fiancée. We never really get a sense of how Ted tricked her or why she stuck by his side for so long. The story that we are given shows her breakdown and the emotional journey she is on after Ted is arrested, taken to jail and ultimately his trial but there was never motivation given of why she even cares about this dude, except for a couple scenes of Ted making food for her kid.
As the viewer you are kind of thrown into the story, and not really given any context of Ted. It seems to be relying on the fact that you already know this person. The film ends up being more like a TV legal drama, having the majority of the one hour and fifty minutes spent in the courtroom. The main difference between this and Law and Order, for example, is the high production cost, giving the movie a much better quality and look overall. The way in which the scenes play out are not bad by any means. There are some great moments between Ted and Judge, portrayed by John Malkovich and Lily Collins and Haley Joel Osment, who plays her coworker/friend, that comes to her aid during Ted’s trial. The film may have been better served as a tv mini-series, as the characters would have been given the opportunity to be given more depth.
There is something missing in the overall narrative as it is never realized why Ted was committing these crimes, how he was pulling the wool over so many people’s eyes and what exactly his motivations were. By the end of the film it should come as no surprise if you find yourself unnerved. I found that up until the last scene, I was questioning whether Ted actually committed these crimes or not - he is just so damn charming, it is hard to believe that this guy would do these things, but that is the point. The director manages to capture who this guy really was. After reading the book by Ann Rule, Ted had everyone fooled. Ann admits that it was not until much of the evidence came out years later, that she too, was not able to believe her friend Ted actually carried out these heinous acts.
Even Zac seemed to be outwitted by the power of Ted. To help separate himself from the role Zac turned to transcendental meditation (TM), stating, “I really love TM, transcendental meditation. I did TM on the way home. Not while driving, but when you’re shooting a movie, one thing we can afford is a ride home, so on the way home I just do some TM and try to phase out of it.”
I see he is slated to star in the next Ana Lily Amirpour film. What a time to be alive! I’m so thankful I didn’t go sleepies.