“Be very careful of who you trust and put your love into” – Zac Efron
The infamous Ted Bundy story is coming to the big screen after almost 30 years since his execution. Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile premiered on January 26, 2019, at this year’s Sundance Film Festival and it brings to light a new perspective not seen before with this story. It is a story about his former girlfriend, Liz Kloepfer, who was manipulated by this man. The film shows the double life Bundy led, from being this seemingly ordinary, charismatic man who was able to woo people over, to the brutal murderer he was.
In what would seem like a jarring, gruesome story, the film, directed by Joe Berlinger, approaches the story through Liz Kloepfer’s (Lily Collins) point of view and shows her denial of the reality. Liz is confronted with the fact that the person she loves might actually be the monster that is portrayed in the media. She wants to believe that he is innocent, but when shown the evidence, she is lost on what to do.
When asked about how the idea came about to present the story from the girlfriend’s perspective, writer, Michael Werwie remarked; “It was always a seduction story, a con man story. I thought who better to be placed in the shoes of than this person who had been with him for many, many years, who cared about him emotionally, was in love with him and could not bring herself to face the reality of the situation. That was a much more compelling way into a story that was otherwise pretty familiar to everybody.”
In the movie, Liz is surrounded by many in her life who try to get her to realize the monster that Ted actually is. Joanna, played by Angela Sarafyan, is Liz’s voice of reason in the film. “It’s her [Liz’s] journey, denial of that reality, which I think many of us can relate to if you’ve been in a toxic relationship,” Angela tells Affinity, “I found it very illuminating and necessary to tell right now because I think we have a hard time seeing the person right in front of us. I love the part I got to play, which was this empowering, young lady who is looking to help her friend find clarity. [The purpose of the role is] to say ‘this is not a good person, you cannot stay with this person.'”
This year’s theme of Sundance is Risk, and Extremely Wicked is no stranger to taking risks. The topic of serial killers is always a risky one to bring to the big screen, with the dangers of humanizing Bundy being a key issue. Haley Joel Osment, who plays Jerry, one of Liz’s friends, remarked about the risk the film presents. “The theme of this year’s [Sundance] festival is risk, and we are definitely doing that. It is risky to deal with a topic so disturbing, with someone who caused so much suffering and pain to people, but it couldn’t be handled by a better director and [with a better] tone. The script dealt with it in a really sensitive way. We do have to show Ted [Bundy] in his most handsome and charming at the outset because this was someone who successfully manipulated lots and lots of people. We are just exploring how that happened without ever losing track of the truth, that he was a brutal mass murderer.”
Extremely Wicked is a risk to bring to the big screen, with it dancing around the gruesome edge of Ted, and only mainly showing his manipulative, charming side until the very end. In the current climate, we live in a society that is crazily interested in crime. Fueled by interest, media keeps pumping out what the audience wants. Shows like Dateline, Nancy Grace, 20/20, and more perpetuate our cultural fascination with crime. The film’s market is that very audience. The movie has brought up the story again, with many questioning why it should even exist, as it paints a picture of a man who is attractive, charismatic and charming being able to woo people over them. There is a worry that bringing this man to the big screen will cause others to idealize and be “seduced” by him, and essentially let him do what he’s famous for even after his death. There is grave concern that it will give him a voice, a voice stronger than the voice belonging to his victims.
Whenever there is a grizzly crime, media drives the narrative of the perpetrator being more important than the victims. Every time there is a mass shooting in America, the media wants to feed us as much info as possible about the shooter, have seconds of silence for the victims, and move on. In the end, whose name do we remember; the victims or the shooters? We know Ted Bundy’s name but do we as the general public know anyone affected by him? No. Extremely Wicked is trying to enable us to remember the victims, know their story, get as much info on them as possible and let the perpetrator be the afterthought.
Angela Sarafyan, when asked about how it was bringing a film with such a controversial nature to light, remarked, “it’s not very controversial. The story is not in any way glorifying serial killers. It is actually looking a the victim, his girlfriend. She thinks he is a normal person, and it [the film] is her journey, denial of that reality.”
Teen film? Not the first thought to come to mind about a movie about America’s most notorious serial killer, but according to the cast much can be learned for teens in the film. Lily Collins thinks that teens can learn a lot about who we villainize from the film. “I think a lot of people can learn this, but teens specifically, [that] people aren’t always what they seem. The people we want to villanize and outcast, and think maybe are not a good person, do not always look the way we think they are going to look.
“We see so much media portraying them with fangs and blood, and you’re like: ‘Oh that’s the creep in the corner.’ Well no, it can be the person you never suspect. I think Ted Bundy was so charismatic and handsome, slick and sly, and no one thought he was guilty, and yet he was capable of these things. So, I think it is really important that when you’re growing up and in your most formable years as a teenager, to just trust your instincts, don’t allow someone’s looks determine how you feel about them,” Lily Collins tells us.
The film exemplifies the message of not just trusting others based on looks, their outward appearance, their façade and to look past that all to truly find the person behind it all. As for teens especially we too often base our opinions on looks, which can lead to dangerous situations, or cause us to miss great opportunities we might have never knew existed because we judged based on looks. All because we never looked past the façade.
Zac furthered the sentiment shared by Lily about not trusting people based on how they look. “I think it is a great movie for teens. It takes a long time to get to know somebody. In today’s world, everything comes at us so fast; we’ve all got phones, we all have social media. The world around us is getting smaller and smaller every day just because we are so in touch with a lot of people. I think what Liz learns in this movie is that someone she really loves and believes she is close to does not have her best interest in heart and in fact is a monster. Just be very careful of who you trust, and put your love into. Make sure you’re careful and put you first. It’s an important message because today it’s swipe-left, swipe-right. Hollywood is kind of crazy, you have to be careful of who you meet. You know, keep your good friends close,” Zac told us.
The film challenges the notion of making judgments on a person’s appearance and makes you learn to look past that. It makes you look past the façade we as people present to the world and makes you find out who they actually are. It is a cautionary tale that allows us to question our society’s way of judging others based on their looks. There is a need to dig deeper to get past a perosn’s façade to truly discover who they are. As a culture, we need to stop emphasizing the perpetrator and putting more emphasis on the victim, the victim’s struggles, how the perpetrator has affected them, and that is why this film deserves existence.
Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile premiered at Sundance on January 26. The film was acquired by Netflix and is due for a theatrical run this fall.
Featured Image courtesy of Nic Leb