OPINION: Criticism for Ted Bundy film misplaced


Alex Cala

If you’ve been following the news at all recently, you’ve noticed Ted Bundy has suddenly become a trending topic.

This is because “Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile,” a film starring Zac Efron as Bundy, premiered Jan. 26 at the Sundance Film Festival, exposing the serial killer to a new generation of Americans.

However, if you’ve just been following these developments based on the reactions on social media, you aren’t getting the full story.

Most of the buzz surrounding this film has been focused on its marketing. This is due to a controversial trailer released last week, which seemed to glamorize Bundy and focuses more on his charisma and looks than the gruesome murders he committed.

While some have characterized this trailer as the deification of a serial killer to garner hype for the film, the facts speak for themselves; one of the reasons Bundy was able to coax trust out of so many of his victims was because his pleasant, sociable exterior hid his murderous interior.

This is a tone the trailer captures perfectly, as well as a duality that makes Bundy’s story so horrifyingly captivating. He did not look or act like a stereotypical murderer, yet was one nonetheless.

This is why I find the criticism expressed toward this trailer somewhat puzzling. If director Joe Berlinger didn’t portray Bundy in an authentic way, Berlinger would be doing a historical disservice, robbing viewers of a fascinating look into one of history’s most notorious serial killers.

A trailer is intended to be only part of what a movie has to offer. It is a small snippet meant to draw an audience in, not a two-minute summary of the whole movie. The actual film could go in a completely different direction and abandon the lighter tone of the trailer for a more sinister characterization.

This makes any criticism of “Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile” on these grounds a preemptive and flawed measure; critics should at least watch the film before making any judgements.

Another aspect of the film that many critics have either overlooked or not mentioned is the narrative structure, which may explain the tone of the trailer.

“Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile” is not told from a neutral perspective. Instead, it is told through the eyes of Liz Kendall, Bundy’s girlfriend.

Although she is a fictional character, Kendall is based off Elizabeth Kloepfer, Bundy’s actual girlfriend who dated him through the ’70s and gave police evidence that eventually led to his arrest in 1975.

This explains the warm portrayal of Bundy seen in parts of the trailer, particularly scenes that show him playing with Kendall’s child. Seeing that the movie is told from her perspective, scenes such as this one needed to be included in order to be as authentic as possible.

In addition, this likely explains why the trailer (and perhaps the film itself) doesn’t have as dreary of a tone as one would expect.

Kloepfer knew Bundy as her long-term boyfriend and never personally witnessed his acts, but she also had her suspicions, as evidenced by some of the more foreboding scenes of the trailer.

Again, this structure wasn’t accidental; I’m sure that if Berlinger wanted to portray Bundy as a one-dimensional psychopath, the director could’ve.

But it seems to me that Berlinger wanted to go for a more historically accurate look at the killer, which also allows for a more interesting and marketable movie.

Does all of this mean that “Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile” is a good film? Not necessarily (as I am writing this, it has 63 percent on Rotten Tomatoes.)

However, if the trailer is any indication, it should be applauded for its unique narrative structure and historical accuracy, which makes criticism of the film’s mission a prime example of misplaced outrage.

Alex Cala is a columnist. Contact him at [email protected].