Zac Efron as Ted Bundy Highlights the Dangers of Male Stereotypes

On Jan. 26, 2019, Joe Berlinger’s newest film, Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile, was screened for the first time at the Sundance Film Festival.

What has resulted is an intense divide over the purpose of the movie and whether or not Berlinger’s film glamourizes the serial killer.

Depending where you fall on this spectrum, I’d say both arguments are valid. Personally, I think the idea of glamourizing Ted Bundy a-la-Zac-Efron is purposeful. Bundy was an attractive man: his charm was one of the key elements that allowed him to lure in his victims. His charm and good looks facilitated his charismatic “performance” during his trial and ultimately resulted in him receiving a slew of love letters. Hell, his then-future wife Carole Ann Boone proposed to him whilst on the stand at his trial!

This is not to excuse Bundy’s atrocities, but to acknowledge his chameleon-like character. On the outside, Bundy appeared to be the ideal man. On the inside, he was an absolute monster and deserves to be regarded as such.

Efron’s Bundy and Penn Badgley’s Joe Goldberg from Netflix’s YOU are masterful performances on the complexity of human behaviour. Their charming and handsome nature is what makes them so dangerous. The perpetrator fitting into the classic trope of a typical “All-American boy next door” is what surprises people the most when these crimes occur. Other examples of this would include Ross Lynch as Jeffery Dahmer in Marc Meyer’s My Friend Dahmer.

Casting an individual like Efron for the titular role was also a conscious decision. We know him from his golden boy days as Troy Bolton in High School Musical, to mega-hunk in Baywatch and a well-rounded performer in The Greatest Showman. In this way, Efron and Bundy share similar reputations as celebrities and cultural obsessions. As an audience, we will look to Efron as someone we know and recognize, only to ultimately be unsettled by his disturbing behaviour.

Without starting an ethics debate, the concept of evil seems much less likely when it comes from someone the public has considered “safe.” This is not to say that we need to be more paranoid, but Efron’s performance allows us to take stock of the levels of manipulation that can exist. Efron playing a glamourized serial killer is the exact reason people are so divided on the issue in the first place. Efron as Bundy makes us uncomfortable. No one wants to admit that they like a serial killer, but that is part of what makes them so cunning.

It is also important to remember that Berlinger is also the director of Netflix’s Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes. This director has made a very conscious decision to examine both sides of the coin.

In an interview for Digital Spy, as told to TMZ, survivor Kathy Kleiner Rubin made a key statement: “I don't have a problem with people looking at it, as long as they understand that what they're watching wasn't a normal person.”

Despite our reaction to what we see on film, Berlinger has the right to artistic interpretation, so it is important to differentiate fact from fiction. The fact remains: Bundy was executed in 1989 for murdering 30 women during the mid-to-late 70’s. Bundy took advantage of women by seducing, mutilating and murdering them.

This is my only point of contention with the film: as much as I believe it is important to understand serial killers, I think it is even more important to remember and honour the victims. They, like us, had families, hopes and dreams, which were unfairly robbed from them by a monster. They deserve to gain support from the public more than anyone. In this article from The Sun, journalist Gemma Mullin breaks down Bundy’s personal history, his crimes and a list of both victims and survivors. I highly encourage that you pause from the general media frenzy and take a moment to look into the lives of these beautiful and brave women. You won’t regret it.

Through all of this, it is important to remember the role of movies and media in today’s society. Regardless of opinion, Berlinger presents a cautionary tale on how Bundy was the ultimate wolf in sheep’s clothing. So let’s acknowledge what we are feeling when watching the film. As the title states: Bundy was no saint, but was extremely wicked, shockingly evil and vile.