Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, and Vile Review
A solid effort to portray the mind of Ted Bundy, but narratively flawed (POTENTIAL SPOILERS)
This review talks about things that happen throughout the film (including the ending) but does not go into incredible detail about what exactly happens in these events. Because of that, I am going to give a warning for minor/somewhat major spoilers for this review.
Let me get this out of the way: This film does NOT deserve a 56% on Rotten Tomatoes as of writing this review. This film is much better than that. Now, I will say I don't know anything about the history of Ted Bundy in general (I watched The Ted Bundy Tapes shortly after writing this review in 2019, and both reviews are available on my Letterboxd profile), so there may be some major inaccuracies in this film. My philosophy, however, is that if you alter history for a dramatized film and it makes for a good story, it makes sense as an artistic choice (in a perfect world, this would be even better if more people researched after watching these types of movies after watching them in order to see what's true and what isn't). This is the case with movies like The Imitation Game, Love and Mercy, Steve Jobs, and The Social Network, all of which are some of my favorite movies of all time (The Social Network is my personal favorite film).
I actually genuinely enjoyed this film. The cinematography was nice and the dialogue (while not as impressive as something like The Social Network) did its job, but what really impressed me about this film and what made it worth watching for me was Zac Efron and Lily Collins' performances. They are both fantastic in this movie, with Lily's character Liz getting incredible character development as she starts to see the terror behind the man she loves and Efron's portrayal turning slowly from a normal-seeming man to someone you don't completely trust. About half an hour into this film, I realized the point of this film was not to make you sympathize with Ted Bundy. The point of it was to put you in Liz's shoes and show you a man you didn't want to believe would commit such atrocious acts and make you question whether or not you wanted to accept that a man like this would commit such terrible crimes. Now, admittedly, most of the crying scenes in this film I don't think were executed very well, but the rest of the acting overall is pretty good, particularly from Collins and Efron.
The third act of this film is what really stands out to me. The tension is culpable, the emotional moments are very strong, the conclusion is satisfying yet devastating, and it's a joy to watch this completely insane trial unfold before your eyes. In terms of flaws, some of the editing feels very repetitive. The opening and closing sequences are edited together so similarly, and I feel like the film would have benefited from opening with a slightly different lead-in to the first meeting of Ted and Liz and then cut back and forth between past and present in the ending sequence of the film. There is also a montage sequence at the end of the film of events that happen throughout the entire film. The only thing that is added in this montage is one sequence is given more context, but other than that, this sequence could have been cut out of the film entirely and just left Liz to deal with the terrifying realization of what actually happened.
The other major thing that annoyed me about this film is that it's one of those films that's rated R but feels more PG-13. If you're not gonna take advantage of the R-rating, don't have it and cut down to get back to PG-13. There are some sequences that are borderline-R and could have been better if the director decided to go full-on R. This is proven whole-heartedly in a picture shown to Bundy near the end of the film of one of the crimes that looked completely CGI-- unconvincing CGI, at that. If the filmmakers decided to make the picture look more realistic, the R-rating would make sure sense because the picture would possibly be disturbing enough to warrant an R-rating, but because it looks unconvincing, it takes you out of the movie.
Look, I've ranted about these small things longer than I thought I was going to, but in all honesty, aside from some occasionally clunky editing and missed potential from the R-rating of the film, I enjoyed everything this film had to offer overall, especially Zac Efron as Ted Bundy (who I actually had faith in from the first trailer of the film). It was an interesting character study of two people who are completely morally opposite, it was an engaging watch all the way through, and the third act hit home runs on all of its emotional potentials. One more quick thing to add, even though I know other people have talked about this already-- the soundtrack is awesome.
Letter Grade: A-