Joe Berlinger’s “Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, and Vile” is the story of notorious serial killer Ted Bundy, as told from the perspective of his girlfriend Elizabeth Kloepfer, who, for years, refused to accept the fact that her boyfriend was a serial killer. Since the film’s world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival on January 26, reviews have been mixed, and some have raised the question of whether the film romanticizes (or even trivializes) Bundy’s actions.
The recent release of the first trailer, with its lively rock soundtrack, snappy text overlays, and an often-grinning Zac Efron as Bundy, has only served to amplify concerns of the film’s approach and tone. Over the weekend, Berlinger addressed the question with Kate Erbland at the IndieWire Studio, presented by Dropbox.
While the filmmaker does acknowledge that the trailer, which he had nothing to do with creating, could mislead audiences, he’s perplexed that anyone who has actually seen the film would come away with the observation that it, in any way, glorifies Bundy. Suggesting that analysis of this sort is effectively lazy and possibly nefarious, the filmmaker said, “I think the state of film criticism is not what it used to be, and there are a lot of people who have an agenda, who refuse to see the film for what it is, because they want to fit an agenda, which sounds defensive by me, but it’s not.”
Thankful for the astute coverage of the film by a handful of trades, including IndieWire, Berlinger questioned what he feels have been personally-motivated criticisms from other media. “Some of these other outlets just felt like kind of attacking me personally, not knowing anything about me,” he said, before elaborating on his 25 years spent advocating for victims’ rights in the criminal justice system. “I’ve helped change laws about victims’ rights, and I’ve gotten wrongfully convicted people out of prison,” he said, emphasizing that these are issues he cares deeply about. “So to lob a criticism at me that I’m glorifying Ted Bundy, and at the expense of the victims, you’re really not watching the film.”
Calling the situation a no-win, for Berlinger, ultimately, the takeaway from the movie is that trust must be earned, with his goal being to have the audience be faced with the experience of the victims that the sadistic sociopath Bundy seduced, including Kloepfer (played by Lily Collins).
“As a father of daughters at the age of the prototypical Bundy victim, there’s a lesson that I want them to have, the deeper meaning and reason to do this film, which is that, people need to earn your trust,” Berlinger said. “America has 5% of the world’s population, but we’ve had 67% of the world’s serial killer population. And even though there’ve been lots of names – Dahmer, Gacy – the one that rises to the top for everyone is Bundy because he was seductive. He eluded capture for so long because everyone believed him. So the movie is about that false believability and deception.”
Watch the full interview segment below: