A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile is a feature about serial killer Ted Bundy, who was executed in 1989 after admitting to murdering at least 30 women in seven states over at least a four-year period. During most of this time, he was engaged in a committed relationship with a woman, and much of the movie is told as the extraordinary story is revealed to her. Although none of the murders are shown, the gruesome details of several are described, and some photos from crimes scenes are also on display. Someone describes the brutality of a sexual assault with a hair misting bottle as so violent that penetration ruptured a woman's internal organs. Teens may reel at the thought that someone as charming, outgoing, and seemingly well-adjusted as the Bundy portrayed here could lead a secret life of vicious and cruel sadism. A woman's bare behind is shown in a photo. Brief sex scenes don't contain nudity. Language includes "f--k" and "s--t," but is rare. A woman drinks too much alcohol and then becomes sober. Adults smoke cigarettes.
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What's the story?
Theodore Robert Bundy (Zac Efron) was the subject of police investigations in several states in the 1970s regarding kidnappings, rapes, and murders of young women. The title, EXTREMELY WICKED, SHOCKINGLY EVIL AND VILE, is the murder trial judge's assessment of Bundy when he sentences him to death for his crimes. The surprise here, for those who didn't follow the case or read about it, is that for many of the years Bundy was on his crime spree through Washington, Colorado, Utah, and Florida, he was in a committed relationship with Liz Kloepfer (Lily Collins), the single mom of a young girl. Bundy played the dutiful boyfriend and helpmate and was also a law student, just the kind of guy Liz thought of as marriage material. Liz is shocked when in 1975 Bundy is arrested in a traffic stop and charged with kidnapping. At first she's certain he could never do what they accuse him of, but it becomes clear that she has her suspicions when she sees a sketch of the suspect that resembles Ted and then learns the suspect drove a Volkswagen bug, like Ted's car. Later we learn that this is when she gives the police Ted's name. (Her actual memoir reveals she had clues to his criminal behavior before the arrest.) Soon he's picked up in state after state. He escapes from jail, only to be captured again. The story adheres closely to actual events, including verbatim dialogue from the trials and from recordings of Bundy's on-camera antics. Given the wide renown of this case and Bundy's execution, the only spoiler might be to describe how unlikely a suspect Bundy might at first have seemed to those who were close to him, which makes his story all the more scary.
Is it any good?
This is a solid biopic that calls into question what and who you can believe, precisely at a time in public life when knowing who to believe is difficult. Some facts of the Bundy case were left unspecified here, including his penchant for necrophilia and the decapitation of at least 12 of his victims. Director Joe Berlinger honed his skills in the documentary world making true-crime films, in one case helping free three wrongfully convicted innocents. Telling this story essentially from the point of view of Bundy's longtime girlfriend is a useful conceit as it underscores the duplicity of Bundy's seeming normality when he was with her, a persona that turned out to be the perfect place to hide his psychopathic inner self.
No murders or rapes are shown in Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile, just crime scene photos, some narrated with a few hair-curling descriptions. This nudges an audience to wonder how the Bundy that Liz knew, the one we get to know, could have treated Liz and her daughter so kindly for so many years while viciously murdering women around the country. It's the notion that evil can disguise itself so easily that shakes a viewer's faith in the idea of unconditional trust and that makes this as much a horror film as a biopic. What's also disturbing is the hero worship some women expressed for Bundy during his hearings and trials, raising questions about the role of the public in elevating such people to celebrity level.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the difficulty of believing that someone close is capable of horrific acts. Do you think that is why Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile seems to be told from Bundy's girlfriend's point of view?
How do you feel about capital punishment? Do you think any crimes warrant punishment by death? Why or why not?
What do you think about the evidence the police found against Bundy? Do you think the movie convincingly showed that Bundy was the killer?
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