Wickedly Entertaining, Shockingly One-Sided


Graphic/ Charlotte Clarke

A high school basketball star, a lawyer, a lifeguard and a serial killer. This may seem like a list of ordinary roles for a capable actor; however, many underestimated Zac Efron’s conveyance of a killer in Extremely Wicked, Shocking Evil and Vile. Fans thought that Efron would not be able to take on the role of Bundy because of his innocuous roles in past movies. Efron has starred as the amorous love interest in comedic films, which include the following: Baywatch, High School Musical and Dirty Grandpa. Nonetheless, Efron portrayed Bundy’s twisted charisma with ease.

Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile is not the only film where the actor’s reputation as a Hollywood heart throb makes him an implausible killer. Controversy also arose around another former Disney Channel star, Ross Lynch, as he endeavored to take on a more serious role. Viewers were also unconvinced with Ross Lynch’s portrayal of Jeffrey Dahmer in the film, My Friend Dahmer. The innocent stigma around these former Disney Channel actors makes it seem highly unlikely that they could be capable of anything so wicked. Fans struggle to separate Efron’s portrayal of Troy Bolton in High School Musical from his portrayal of Ted Bundy. However, this could have been an intentional stylistic choice by the directors in attempt to prove how deceptive Bundy was in his ability to put on an attractive facade. Viewers are divided on whether Efron’s portrayal is utterly unconvincing or whether his performance parallelled Bundy’s character exactly.

Netflix advertised that Bundy’s story would be told through the eyes of his girlfriend, Elizabeth Kloepfer, who was played by Lily Collins. There was hype attached to this perspective as Conversations With a Killer—Bundy’s firsthand account of his crimes —highlighted his deranged psyche. Disappointingly, Extremely Wicked was merely Efron’s portrayal of Bundy’s cover ups. Although Collins effectively conveyed distress, her starring role was not evident until one of the final scenes. After Kloepfer comes to terms with the truth about Bundy’s killings, the soul-stirring scene where Collins confronts Efron finally conveys the heart-wrenching emotion that truth evokes.

Although this film had its viewers on the edge of their seats, it has a dangerous tendency to glamorize vile crimes for entertainment purposes. Similar to the Netflix series, Thirteen Reasons Why, which glamorizes teen suicide, Extremely Wicked had its viewers almost hoping Bundy and Kloepfer would end up together. It seems that the director was trying to convince the viewers that Bundy really was in love with her rather than the fact that he was a deranged psychopath. There were various scenes in which Bundy had a poignant relationship with Kloepfer’s daughter and portrayed scenes, like the one when the couple first met, as if it were a dark love story. Netflix’s softening of horrific situations seems to be a questionable pattern appearing in many of their Netflix Originals.

As unsettling as it sounds, it was difficult not to, guiltily, hope that Efron would be declared innocent. Efron’s allure was undeniable and his endearment for his girlfriend’s daughter seemed not only benign, but sincere as well. For viewers without prior knowledge of Bundy’s crimes, it would be hard for them to recognize that Bundy was actually guilty. Up until one haunting moment—we all remember the “HACKSAW” scene—we found ourselves confused as to whether he really was guilty. We knew the truth, whether we wanted to believe it or not was the question. Perhaps, despite the director’s odd choices, Efron’s humanizing portrayal of a serial killer made the movie far more engaging than it would have been if Efron’s character were villainized.