New Netflix Bundy Film Strikes the Wrong Note
Last Sunday, after a weekend of tireless activity getting settled into my new house, I decided that I’d earned a little “Netflix and chill” time. So, after dinner, I fired up the old Netflix machine and ended up watching the new, original series, “Dead to Me” — in its entirety, because that’s how binge-watching works.
The ten-episode dark comedy, which stars Christina Applegate as a widow whose husband was recently killed by a hit-and-run driver, was good. It’s enjoyable enough, and I certainly wouldn’t discourage you from watching it if you’re tired and sore and have an entire Sunday evening to kill.
But, to be perfectly honest, that’s not what this week’s column is about. After I finished “Dead to Me,” and not quite ready for bed, I inexplicably pushed play on the latest Ted Bundy-related Netflix offering, “Extremely Wicked, Shocking Evil and Vile.” (Because that sounds like something you’d want to watch at bedtime, right?)
I went into it not really knowing what to expect, and only vaguely aware of some of the criticism the latest rash of Bundy films has received. I would later learn that the critical reception was generally bad — and often brutally so. The Observer, for instance, began its review: “Add to the long-winded title of this film, ‘…and completely unnecessary.’”
For those unfamiliar, “Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile” revolves around Bundy’s relationship with Liz Kendall, the single, Seattle mother who was Bundy’s on-again, off-again girlfriend throughout many of the serial killer’s early arrests and incarcerations. It attempts to convey Bundy’s ability to charm and deceive even those closest to him, while exploring Kendall’s own psychological and emotional struggle as she tried to come to terms with the allegations against Bundy.
Bundy is played by Zac Efron, and Lily Collins plays Kendall. The screenplay is based on a memoir by Kendall—whose real name is Elizabeth Kloepfer—called “The Phantom Prince: My Life with Ted Bundy,” which was written using Kendall as a pseudonym. (The film uses Kendall as the character’s name.)
In its attempt to convey how Kendall could be blinded by Bundy’s charm, the film steps on the built-in landmine that the filmmakers attempted to avoid — glamorizing the killer, exploiting his crimes and escapes, and devolving into a courtroom drama as Kendall fades quietly into the background. In short, it doesn’t work.
In its failure to remain focused on the couple’s relationship, and by de-emphasizing the killer’s heinous crimes, the film truly succeeds in accomplishing what it set out to avoid. And while it’s only been a week since the film was released, the reception has been lukewarm at best. On RottenTomatoes.com, it has only a 57 percent rating, based on 115 critical reviews. Viewers have been only slightly kinder, giving it an audience score of 60 percent.
All told, the film’s glaring deficiencies don’t make it totally unwatchable. But they do require viewers to go into the film with managed expectations.
— Originally Published in the Las Cruces Sun-News, 05/09/19