Netflix’s Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, and Vile is centered on an infamous Ted Bundy who confessed to 30 murders across the United States before being sent to the electric chair for his crimes. If you’ve seen the film starring Zac Efron though, you know it doesn’t classify as the gory slasher one might expect from a movie tracing the serial killer’s life.
This was intentional and there’s a good reason why. Here’s how the film’s writer Michael Werwie explained that creative choice:
I was compelled by all of the mundane domestic details of his life and I thought an interesting way into a serial killer's story would be to show no serial killing at all. I wanted to explore the love story of it all. This is more of a human side of the story. It’s about the people who had an emotional connection to Ted Bundy. This is about seduction, betrayal and it’s also about the truth. The emotional side of the story is what makes the movie different than the documentary.
While many movies of this subject matter have focused on the shocking crimes themselves, Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, and Vile is a study of the killer’s life outside his infamous murders. The film tells the story from the way his longtime girlfriend, Elizabeth “Liz” Kloepfer, learned of his dark psyche. They met at a bar in 1969, fell in love and lived out a happy life with her daughter for many years before news of his crimes surfaced. Some have accused the film of glamorizing the killer but it’s telling the story through the eyes of someone who loved him.
Lily Collins, who plays Liz in the film and director Joe Berlinger visited Kloepfer prior to shooting the film. Berlinger said looking through the photo albums of skiing trips, camping and birthday parties that reminded him of his own memorabilia cemented the film’s direction to be from the perspective of Bundy’s home life with Liz.
The director had recently explored all the gruesome details of Bundy’s crimes in his documentary Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes and wanted to go in another direction for the feature film. In his words to THR:
Conversations is much more of a clinical dissection of the terrible things he did. This movie is an emotional unwrapping of the level to which he was able to deceive, not just Elizabeth Kloepfer, but the American media that kind of made him into a perverse folk hero and the American judicious system.
The film also shows how the courts where Ted Bundy was being tried was lenient with him because of his clean-cut look and charisma. Bundy was allowed to represent himself as a defense attorney. He escaped from prison twice because of how careless the security was about him. Berlinger noted that if he’d been a person of color he wouldn’t have been able to get away with so much with the justice system that he did.
If the perspective was shifted to one full of violence and slaughters, the audience wouldn’t get the view of Ted Bundy everyone around him had. It’s not until the end when Liz accepts his crimes and confronts him in prison to confess to him do we see a moment of Bundy being capable of brutality on screen.
Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, and Vile is available to stream on Netflix now, along with these new titles coming to the platform this month.