Zac Efron's portrayal of serial killer Ted Bundy is being accused of romanticising the brutal murderer

Voltage Pictures/YouTubeZac Efron as Ted Bundy in ‘Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile.’
  • In the movie “Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile,” playing at the Sundance Film Festival, Zac Efron plays the prolific serial killer and rapist Ted Bundy.
  • The movie is drawing polarised reviews, as many critics say the movie glamorizes Bundy’s charisma.
  • They argue director Joe Berlinger, who also made the Netflix documentary “Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes,” doesn’t sufficiently challenge Bundy’s charm.
  • “I certainly don’t think we’re glorifying him because he gets his due,” Berlinger told the Salt Lake Tribune.

One of the hottest tickets at the Sundance Film Festival this year is “Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile,” a biopic of Ted Bundy, the serial killer and rapist responsible for murdering at least 30 girls and young women in the 1970s.

But the true crime drama, starring “High School Musical” and “Baywatch” heartthrob Zac Efron and directed by Joe Berlinger, has made many viewers uncomfortable, as The Salt Lake Tribune pointed out.

To some critics, “Extremely Wicked” crosses the line from being critical of Bundy’s charm to falling sway to it.

The trailer, released Thursday, is filled with upbeat rock music and features Efron as Bundy, mugging the camera while at one point bragging that he’s “more popular than Disney World.” It’s a stark contrast to Berlinger’s sober-minded documentary about Bundy, “Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes,” released this past weekend on Netflix.


Read more:
Watch Zac Efron transform into infamous serial killer Ted Bundy in the trailer for his new movie

The tone of “Extremely Wicked” doesn’t really work, some critics say. The movie “is compartmentalising Bundy’s evil” by focusing on Bundy’s human side, according to Variety’s Owen Glieberman. It “can’t resist making Bundy look like a little bit of a rock star at times even though the movie purports to condemn him,” says The Playlist’s Rodrigo Perez. And, argues Vanity Fair’s Richard Lawson,“Berlinger fails to properly contextualize the grim loyalty Bundy stokes.”

Zac efron ted bundy movie extremely wickedVoltage Pictures/YouTubeZac Efron’s portrayal polarised reviews at the Sundance Film Festival.

Making dramatic films based on real-life events is always fraught with ethical issues. And with Ted Bundy’s case, it doesn’t help that some of Bundy’s victim’s relatives and friends are still alive – and presumably have no interest in seeing the brutal murderer and rapist glamorized in a movie.

Berlinger anticipated that kind of reaction. In an interview with the Salt Lake Tribune, he said he tried to avoid glorifying Bundy and tried to take the perspective of Elizabeth Kloepfer, Bundy’s girlfriend.

“I certainly don’t think we’re glorifying him because he gets his due,” he told the Tribune. “If it was a typical serial-killer movie … I think that would just so poison the audience into being able to have this experience of being able to be deceived by somebody who’s so believable and charismatic.” The movie also captures Bundy paying for his crimes: The state of Florida killed him by electric chair in 1989 after he was convicted of three of the murders. Before he was put to death, he confessed to murdering 30 women.

Zac efron ted bundy mugshot extremely wickedVoltage Pictures/YouTubeZac Efron posing for a mugshot, playing Ted Bundy in ‘Extremely Wicked.’

Considered attractive and charming, Bundy became something of a national celebrity when he was tried for murdering two Florida State University students. His 1979 trial was the first to be nationally televised and many women flocked to the courtroom day after day. He took the opportunity to turn his trial into entertainment, strutting around the courtroom in a powder blue suit and bowtie while acting as his own attorney. That dynamic – of Bundy using his own charisma to persuade people to believe in him – marked the beginning of the serial killer celebrity as an American archetype, Berlinger told the Salt Lake Tribune.

While some critics think Berlinger’s biopic succeeds, other feel it fails to draw a distinction between a historical retelling and his own directorial view.

Taking Kloepfer’s perspective is “nothing more than disingenuous lip service perhaps to engender good will to savvy (and woke) audiences hoping to see some female agency (which the film does not deliver, though boy it does try all of sudden late in the game),” according to The Playlist.

“Extremely Wicked” does not yet have a release date.

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