Films about serial killers and other sociopaths are the last things we need in these troubled times. Specially after watching Lara Von Tiers’ atrociously barbaric serialkiller porn-violence in The House That Jack Built not to mention Raj Kumar Hirani’s Sanju, I has sworn off films that glorify anti-social ‘heroes.’
In a very strange, stirring and refreshing departure from convention director Joe Berlinger’s saga of real-life American serial killer Ted Bundy gets it right. Bundy played with disquieting charm by Zac Efron reportedly killed over 30 woman (that’s just the official figure, unofficially there were many more) during the 1960s and 70s until he was finally sentenced to death in Florida by a judge (played with unostentatious brilliance by John Malkovich) who describes Bundy in the words that form the Shantaram-esque title of this engaging and disturbing film.
But here’s what: the film on Ted Bundy’s vile life doesn’t get gruesome on us. Until the final blow in the closing moments when, for the first time we see the charming Bundy doing not-so-charming things to a woman, everything else is done off screen. We just hear about Bundy being the prime suspect in countless killings across America. On screen, we see this enormously likeable ladies’ man, making his prison escape look cute rather than mutinous, getting feminine attention wherever he goes and whenever he likes. Terms and conditions don’t apply.
There is the love of Bundy’s life Liz, played with a tragic inevitability by the lovely Lily Collins (she is the daughter of musician Phil Collins’). At the end, when Bundy has nowhere to run anymore, Liz rightly wonders why she, and her daughter, were spared and in fact genuinely loved by the killer. Could it be because Liz was the fulcrum of normalcy, that ‘other’ life which Bundy seems to lead, while he’s actually living another dark and sinister life?
Questions such as these are stared in their face with no venom but, plenty of vitality by the stark yet gentle writing in this dramatic yet elegiac film about a charming man whose dormant nastiness is as elusive to apprehend as it is to comprehend.
Many moments in the elegantly edited, smartly narrated story had me enthralled. The blend of regret and menace in this film is unique. Then there is Zac Efron. He is so apt, so bang-on as the endearing psychopath, that I was left wondering if he was really the killer, even after we are given visual evidence of his brutal personality at the end.
When he is sentenced to death, Efron’s chilling statement on the distance between the man who killed all those women and the one who stands in the court, endorses Efron’s exceptional performance. It also offers us a vivid glimpse into the culture of subliminal sadism where violence is seen as a part of another life nothing to do with the civil life that an individual leads.
Indeed this film will make you wonder why some people enjoy hurting others when there is so much to love everywhere.
Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil & Vile (Netflix)
Starring Zac Efron, Lily Collins
Directed by Joe Berlinger
Rating: ****(4 stars)