Puzzle that is short of a missing piece

Zac Efron in Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, and Vile.
Zac Efron in Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, and Vile. PHOTO: SHAW ORGANISATION

REVIEW / CRIME BIOPIC

EXTREMELY WICKED, SHOCKINGLY EVIL AND VILE (M18)

110 minutes/Opens today/3.5 stars

The story: In Seattle, college student Liz Kendall (Lily Collins) is a single mother who meets the man of her dreams. Ted (Zac Efron), a law student, sweeps her off her feet and they are married. Later, in 1974, reports of murders of several young women appear and Ted is identified by a witness. Details of Ted's other life emerge in court and in police reports, but he tells Liz they have caught the wrong man. Based on the 1981 memoir written by Kendall, The Phantom Prince: My Life With Ted Bundy.

This is a biopic of a serial killer seen from the point of view of a woman who lived with him for several years and was convinced she knew everything there was to know about him. Outwardly, at least, he appeared to be a model husband and father.

Far from being a rose-tinted account, this story tries to capture the particular nausea of a wife discovering that the man she loved used the family home as a base from which he refreshed himself before setting out once again to kill.

This film is part of a two-pack. There is the documentary Conversations With A Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes (2019), which contains journalistic details about Bundy's crimes. Director Joe Berlinger helmed the documentary and this - the dramatic recreation of what the man was like when he was with Kendall, and in prison, when he was not.

Both films are available on Netflix in the United States, but in Singapore, you have to watch this in cinemas, for rights reasons.

 

Watching the factual account of his crimes first would offer good context because the emphasis in this film is on Bundy as the banal domestic dad whose behaviour would be indistinguishable from other fathers and husbands.

As the story moves forward in time, Berlinger and his team stray from the original point of view. Their reportorial instincts drive them to cover Bundy's actions beyond what Kendall could have directly witnessed.

To be fair, the man's deeds are noteworthy. They include his bizarre showboating in court and Houdini-worthy prison breaks.

Then there is the behaviour of his fawning fan club, whose members included Carole Ann Boone (Kaya Scodelario), an old friend who became his next wife.

At the heart of it all is the mystery that is Bundy himself.

Efron offers an excellent performance as a character who used his attractiveness and white, middle-class male privilege to wreak havoc. Even under guard, Bundy got very far with a dazzling smile and polite demeanour, including a courtroom escape that led to more killings. Bundy's easy grin, as sold by Efron, is a passport that opens doors.

Still, this is a portrait formed from puzzle pieces: The man is a charmer, manipulator and deceiver, but the final piece, the one that might offer insight into the "why" of his serial killing, is never revealed. It is as if to say that no explanation will ever be adequate, or feel satisfactory.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 23, 2019, with the headline 'Puzzle that is short of a missing piece'. Print Edition | Subscribe