‘Extremely Wicked …’ review: As Ted Bundy’s wary wife, Lily Collins excels

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Zac Efron as Ted Bundy and Lily Collins as his wife Liz in “Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, and Vile.” | Netflix

If you want to see a great documentary about one of the most notorious serial killers in history, his surviving victims, journalists who covered the case and law enforcement that pursued this monster, check out the four-part Netflix series “Conversations With a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes.”

If you want to see a solid movie about Bundy as mostly experienced through the viewpoint of the single mother who fell in love with him without knowing he was a murderer, check out the Netflix feature film “Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Vile and Evil.”

If you wish they’d stop making movies about Bundy, who was executed in Florida in 1989 and whose name is far better known than any of his 30-plus victims, that’s understandable as well.

Still, as repulsed as we are by the likes of Bundy, there’s no denying the ongoing interest in these homicidal sociopaths, especially the ones who seemed so “normal” in their everyday lives and managed to literally get away with murder for years before being apprehended.

Directed in docudrama style (complete with actual news footage from the era) by Joe Berlinger and written by Michael Werwie, “Extremely Wicked …” is an adaptation of a memoir by Elizabeth Kloepfer (now Elizabeth Kendall), who met Bundy in Washington state in 1969, fell in love with him and remained involved with him even after he had been arrested and charged with kidnapping and had been identified as the primary suspect in a string of murders of young women.

The British actress Lily Collins (“Mirror, Mirror,” “Rules Don’t Apply”) gives maybe the finest performance of her career as Liz — a smart, resourceful, warm-hearted young single mother who is by no means gullible or naïve, yet somehow allows this man to remain in her life even as her instincts are telling her there’s something … not right about him and his stories.

Zac Efron plays the handsome, slimy, dead-eyed Ted Bundy, and this is some of his finest work as well. Efron conveys Bundy’s charisma and easy charm without ever letting us forget he’s the devil in a turtleneck sweater and bell-bottomed slacks.

With period-piece songs such as “Do You Believe in Magic?” by the Lovin’ Spoonful, “Crimson and Clover” by Tommy James and the Shondells and “Lucky Man” by Emerson, Lake & Palmer on the soundtrack, the frequent use of newsreel footage and home-movie style vignettes of Liz and her daughter and Ted sharing moments of domestic bliss, “Extemely Wicked” conveys a sense of authenticity and essential truth.

There are no scenes re-enacting any of Bundy’s vicious, horrific crimes and only brief glimpses of crime scene photos — and yet this is by no means a soft or sympathetic portrayal of Bundy. It’s a character study about a narcissistic killer who maintained his innocence for years, and the woman who wanted so much to believe him, she avoided the truth until it was no longer possible. (When a girlfriend shows Liz a police sketch of the killer and points out how much it resembles Bundy, she replies, “That sketch looks like everyone … anyone with brown hair.”

The supporting cast is deep and brilliant: Haley Joel Osment as a supportive friend and co-worker of Liz; Dylan Baker as a Utah prosecutor; Terry Kinney as a police detective from Colorado; Jim Parsons as the publicity-seeking lead prosecutor in the Florida trial; John Malkovich as the judge in that trial.

It’s Malkovich’s character who utters the phrase “extremely wicked, shockingly evil and vile.” But that same judge called Bundy “partner” during the trial, as if they were fishing buddies, and said to Bundy, “Take care yourself, young man. I say that to you sincerely. … You’re a bright young man … but you went a different way. I don’t have any animosity toward you. I want you to know that.” (It’s a verbatim quote from the actual trial.)

Even the judge who imposed the death sentence on Ted Bundy seemed a bit taken with the monster’s charm.

‘Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile’

★★★

Netflix presents a film directed by Joe Berlinger and written by Michael Werwie, based on the book “The Phantom Prince: My Life with Ted Bundy” by Elizabeth Kendall. Rated R (for disturbing/violent content, some sexuality, nudity and language). Running time: 109 minutes. Debuts Friday on Netflix.

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