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The controversy of the new Ted Bundy biopic

I’ll admit it, I am a complete sucker for crime TV shows and movies. I had heard on Twitter a while ago that Zac Efron had accepted the role of ‘Ted Bundy’ in a biopic directed by Joe Berlinger, whose documentary series Conversations With a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes arrived on Netflix earlier this month. It immediately peaked my interest. How could Zac Efron (an actor typified as a sparkly teen heartthrob) now portray one of America’s most notorious serial killers? Troy Bolton, where did it all go wrong?

It is unsurprising that two Ted Bundy centred projects are being released this year. The 24th of January marked the thirtieth anniversary of Ted Bundy’s execution and, more generally, there has been a tangible uptake in the popularity of true crime documentaries and series with Netflix recently renewing Making a Murderer for a second series and the FX true crime series The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story coming out of the awards season extremely decorated. People have a morbid fascination and a guilty pleasure for true crime, moving away from newspapers and cheap magazines to 4K limited series – that there is now a mainstream feature length film with a flashy cast about such an infamous killer is seemingly a natural progression. It must be acknowledged however, that this project is not the first Ted Bundy film.

people have a morbid fascination and a guilty pleasure for true crime

The trailer for Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Violent was released at Sundance Festival earlier this month, and to say it has been met with mixed reactions would be an understatement. Ted Bundy has always (sometimes incredibly reluctantly) been described as charming and charismatic, often using these traits to exploit his victims’ trust. This has been fairly well accepted. He was a well-educated and handsome individual, with his colleague, ‘Ann Rule’ (who went on to write the definitive Bundy biography ‘The Stranger Beside Me’) describing him at the time as “kind, solicitous, and empathetic”.

Yet, when Efron ruthlessly (and effectively) uses his charm, it is disturbingly similar to that charm that made us fall in love with him during his Disney career. In portraying the sadistic serial killer, he is met with tides of disapproval. The most widespread criticism of Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile (named after a courtroom description of Bundy) is that the film seeks to glorify and romanticise Bundy, who raped and killed over thirty women. Twitter users took to the platform, condemning Berlinger and questioning the psychological impact watching the movie would have on the families of the survivors. Lauren Jauregui, notable singer and ex-Fifth Harmony member, has been one of the most high-profile voices of disgust, tweeting on January 26th: “The wink is extremely disturbing and the romanticization of a serial killer is exactly why these sick f***s continue to do things like this to women. Notoriety. This is appalling”.

Twitter users took to the platform, condemning Berlinger and questioning the psychological impact watching the movie would have on the families of the survivors

However, in almost equal volume there are people defending the film, stating that the film is supposed to show Bundy’s life through his long-term girlfriend Liz Kloepfer’s eyes. She, much like Bundy’s victims, was drawn in by his charm and boyish demeanour, and initially believed Bundy’s claims that he was being framed for the crimes until the evidence became insurmountable. Therefore, the film is shown from her perspective of him – a glittery, romantic view untainted by his horrific secret life. Others are also pointing out that it is important to not show Ted Bundy in a way that forces him to conform to society’s expectations of murderers and violent criminals. Not all of them are ‘creepy looking’ unshaved lurkers in white vans. They, much like Ted Bundy was, can be attractive and charming young people and this should be recognised.

Before you decide based off of a Buzzfeed article or a tweet what your opinion of the movie is, watch the trailer and appreciate that, in real life, he really did purport to be the all-American ‘ladies’ man and that this was perhaps the reason that he successfully attacked so many women in plain sight. We should not lose focus of the impact of Bundy’s vile actions on a countless number of lives (there is still no definitive number of victims) but we should see this film as an interesting way to gain insight into one of the most disturbed minds of the late 20th century. Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile has been released at Sundance Film Festival and will arrive at cinemas in the UK later this year. The date for release has not yet been confirmed.

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