Does Zac Efron movie sexualize serial killer Ted Bundy? Critics are split

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Zac Efron takes on the creepy role of serial killer Ted Bundy in “Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile.” Fans were quick to react to the trailer on social media.
USA TODAY

PARK CITY, Utah — Here’s a sentence we never thought we’d be writing in 2019: A new movie has been accused of making Ted Bundy a sex symbol. 

That’s right. When the trailer for “Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile” debuted online ahead of the drama’s Sundance Film Festival premiere late Saturday night, some Twitter users were up in arms over how it appeared to sexualize the serial killer (played by Zac Efron), who confessed to murdering at least 30 women before he was sent to the electric chair in 1979.

The two-minute trailer begins with a passionate montage of Bundy and his girlfriend, Liz Kendall (Lily Collins), dancing, kissing and stripping down to their underwear. Later, Bundy grins and winks at the camera in court. 

“The wink is extremely disturbing and the romanticization of a serial killer is exactly why these sick (expletive) continue to do things like this to women. Notoriety,” ex-Fifth Harmony member Lauren Jauregui wrote. “This is appalling.”

Now that “Extremely Wicked” has been unveiled in its entirety, there are certainly uneasy moments suggesting Bundy is more Casanova than cold-blooded killer. Michael Werwie’s script repeatedly comes back to his dream of a quiet family life – with the wife, kids and dog – and yet his smolder makes even random strangers weak-kneed. Swaths of teenage girls flock to his murder trial, calling him “dreamy” and cheering every time he takes the stand.

Director Joe Berlinger also ogles Efron’s chiseled, naked body in a few gratuitous shots. The camera lingers on Bundy’s six-pack abs and butt as he changes into a prison uniform, and again when he has vigorous sex against a snack machine with Carole Anne Boone (Kaya Scodelario), a former flame. 

But rather than glorify Bundy, the intended effect is to condemn the insatiable media that made him a celebrity, with one of the first murder trials to air on national TV. While the general public swooned over his handsomeness and charm, those were the very weapons he used to lure his female victims – earning their trust before he raped and decapitated them. 

Berlinger attempts to bring Bundy’s story into the #MeToo era by making Liz a living victim, and never depicting any scenes of violence against women until the movie’s final minutes. It’s an idea that’s more noble in its intent than execution, according to mixed early reactions to “Extremely Wicked.”

“Extremely Wicked” is Berlinger’s latest project about Bundy, joining Netflix docuseries “Conversations with A Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes,” which he also directed. The film is still seeking distribution. 

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