Zac Efron turning from Disney star to adult comedies like Baywatch and Neighbors to transform into one of the most infamous serial killers in history, Ted Bundy. I had high hopes for the film to see the actor do something different after becoming redundant in his comedic roles, but after the trailer for the upcoming biopic on the killer, I feel confused about the tone, worried for failure, and disappointed in what has been delivered.
Unlike most stories centered around someone truly evil, the perspective lands on Bundy’s longtime girlfriend, Elizabeth Kloepfer (Lily Collins) and sees most of the screentime will be set on her point of view. Much of the horrendous rapes and murders will get acknowledged, but sit in the back seat. The claim from Efron and director Joe Berlinger (Paradise Lost) is that the objective is a character study on Bundy and his relationship with Kloepfer, but not a single drop of that came off in this first worldwide look at the film.
To take it from the top, fun rock music blasts through the first click on YouTube to see Bundy meet Kloepfer at a bar to give the introduction of how they first connect and where they go in their relationship. Makes sense to have an amusing start to the teaser, but the rock n’ roll tunes continue as Bundy’s seemingly innocent life takes a grim turn, making for a bizarre, unfitting tone.
A series of events unfold as the police start to suspect Bundy of kidnapping women. His number one mission is to not only show his innocence but to prove to his lover and her daughter Molly (Morgan Pyle) that he is the man they have known and loved. With the drama, I could not taste any of the serious, tension, or disturbing flavors, mostly due to the music and the editing.
Bundy goes through courtrooms, the media taking photos of him, and people questioning whether or not he committed such heinous acts of violence. A real sense of curiosity and horror translates through quite well. The emotions the people felt when watching at their TVs or reading their newspapers about this crime delivers an authentic impression of what Americans had to go through with this knowledge.
Biopics must always have a solid focus, or they fall apart, so flipping the genre on its head by pushing away from murder and more towards a loving relationship between two people should get some respect. The problem comes from humanizing Bundy, which seems the case. If the premise works then, we will get a brilliant, groundbreaking look at the monstrous killer and new feelings towards Efron as an actor.
A question is posed in the film, can someone like Bundy, a psychopath, fall in love due to him never killing Kloepher? Plenty of great ideas are flowing from Berlinger and writer Michael Werwie, but I am having my doubts if they will translate their goals to the audience, who might feel disgusted and shocked, and not in the way that the filmmakers would want.
Hopefully, the comedic vibes only show in the right moments during the first act to build up characters and relationships rather than popping up when everyone starts to see the monster under the mask. If the execution of the tone and objective gets done ethically to not overly humanize Bundy and show the trauma that Kloepher had to endure by discovering the true identity of the love of her life then maybe we can get something truly incredible.
After tearing into Berlinger’s biopic, I should say that the casting looks great and the approach holds a lot of promise. Efron can show the world he is more than Disney songs and crude humor. Lily Collins (Les Miserables), Angela Sarafyan (Westworld) Jim Parsons (Big Bang Theory), and John Malkovich (In the Line of Fire) will help lift the film up with their performances. A robust and well-experienced cast with plenty of people stepping into something brand new should deliver a unique experience.
Fingers crossed for lousy marketing and editing rather than what was just shown to the world.
Watch the trailer and comment what you think of the film. Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile has no release date for theaters as of yet and just premiered at the Sundance Festival.
All images via Voltage Pictures