Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil & Vile falls short of the truth

Netflix’s Ted Bundy thriller minimizes the danger facing those who loved him

Netflix’s newest thriller series risks romanticizing famous killer Ted Bundy.

This article broadly discusses themes of sexual assault and violence. 


Netflix’s newest thriller, Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vilewill keep you on the edge of your seat. The film explores the crimes of Ted Bundy, the notorious serial killer and necrophile. Although the film captures Bundy’s intelligence and charisma—attributes that helped him fool many into believing he was innocent—it fails to sufficiently portray just how “extremely wicked” he was.


Ted Bundy, played by Zac Efron, murdered and sexually assaulted at least 30 young women between 1974 and 1978, although the number of victims is thought to be much higher. The Netflix film rightly avoids showing any of this violence, choosing instead to focus on Bundy’s murder trials and relationships.


Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile begins the night Bundy met his long-time girlfriend, Elizabeth Kloepfer, portrayed by Lily Collins. It’s based on Kloepfer’s memoir about her time with Bundy, written under her pseudonym, Liz Kendall. It goes on to show Bundy’s arrest, escapes from the law, and well-attended legal trials. Much of the film is from Kloepfer’s point of view, showing the emotional burden of accepting the truth about Bundy’s true nature.


Zac Efron’s portrayal of Bundy is chillingly accurate—he nails Bundy’s aesthetic and his mannerisms. Video clips of the real Bundy at the movie’s end show that Efron accurately replicates his speech, laid-back attitude, and superficially likeable demeanor. Some of Efron’s lines are even word-for-word quotes from Bundy’s well-documented interviews and trials.


The film spends much of its run time emphasizing Bundy’s attractiveness and charisma. Outside one of the trials, a young spectator tells a reporter that while news of the murders have made her afraid to sleep at night, she still thinks Bundy is “really dreamy.”  Even the judge overseeing the case compliments Bundy, saying he would have made a great lawyer had he not gone down the wrong path.


The decision to center the film on Kloepfer’s struggle to accept the truth about Bundy explores an often-overlooked perspective—the idea that we don’t always know the people we love. As a viewer, it’s easy to empathize with Kloepfer’s grief as we see her hoping, time and time again, that Bundy will be proven innocent. 


However, while Kloepfer eventually admits that she had some suspicions about Bundy, the plot omits the extent to which she knew of his unusual nature. The film fails to mention that the real Elizabeth Kloepfer often found strange items in Bundy’s home, such as bags of women’s clothing, and that he once attempted to suffocate her by filling her apartment with smoke. Since the film was largely based on Kloepfer’s perspective, these details seem important to include. 


Although viewers may have been less inclined to sympathize with Kloepfer’s emotional attachment to Bundy if these details were included, the filmmakers should have made more of an effort to be as accurate as possible. Instead of romanticizing Bundy and Kloepfer’s bond, it should have been made clearer she was in a relationship that was dangerous for her.


Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile refrains from showing any of Bundy’s murders throughout the film, making it a safe watch for anyone who isn’t a fan of gruesome violence. Instead, the film is creepy on a psychological level, which may appeal to those who enjoy thrillers and crime dramas. The final scene is a perfect culmination to the film, offering a suspenseful buildup to the closure the audience is waiting for.


One thing to keep in mind while viewing this film is that the horrible acts committed by Bundy aren’t portrayed solely to thrill audiences—they’re entirely real.  Watching Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile can be a painful reminder that many young women suffered at the hands of Bundy, especially considering how he’s portrayed to be so likeable. However, the film does offer an opportunity to commemorate the women and prevent their stories from being forgotten. 


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