Zac Efron's New Ted Bundy Movie May Be Taking Our Obsession With Serial Killers Too Far

Photo: Courtesy of Sundance Institute.
Let’s play a word association game. When I say, serial killer, what comes to mind? In 2019 the answer might be true crime, podcasts, and even...sexy? Right now, America is in the middle of an obsession with serial killers of old, fueled by movies, TV, podcasts, and just about any other form of media you can think of. But the camera’s obsession with sex pot Zac Efron playing Ted Bundy, the man who brutally murdered 30 people, might have pushed our general intrigue into a sexualized fantasy in the new movie Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile.
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The trailer for Extremely Wicked dropped on Saturday ahead of its Sundance premiere, and the internet is having strong reactions to it. The trailer opens with Efron and Lily Collins, who plays his wife, dancing, flirting, kissing, stripping, and having sexy times while Efron sexily puts his hand on her throat. The trailer then gets a few shots of Efron’s truly insanely chiseled body in, while turning any depiction of his character perpetrating violence into an action movie shot, creating excitement with slow motion and repeated action that creates safe suspense by cutting out right before the brutal connection of laying ax to skin. Efron’s Bundy is charismatic, loveable, and the film’s hero, guilty or not.
Here’s what the critics have to say:
“The romanticization of a serial killer is exactly why these sick fucks continue to do things like this to women. Notoriety," ex-Fifth Harmony member Lauren Jauregui wrote in a tweet. "This is appalling."
But the internet has some defenders of the trailer, too. Consider the most popular response to Jauregui’s tweet: “We need to stop portraying serial killers as bumbling monsters who are obviously insane and show them for who they really are: normal-looking, everyday people who pass you on the street and can be charming and attractive.”
The trailer is sparking more considered criticism from movie writers, too. As critic Richard Lawson eloquently wrote in Vanity Fair, “Something in the current discourse about what kind of stories we want to tell, and how we want to tell them, has dislodged the thing in me that kept me gripped by these kinds of narratives; I have trouble finding the justification for the prurience anymore. Extremely Wicked only furthers that distaste, even as it tries to give us a new, more humane angle on all this horror.”
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It seems clear that Extremely Wicked sets out to play with tone using Bundy’s story — consider the title; wicked is a sort of playful word, like naughty or even the neveau-compliment fierce. As with most things, the ultimate question seems to be, why? Is it, as critics claim, an unfortunate accident or a manifestation of our cultural obsession gone too far? Or, is it a purposeful choice on the part of the director to remind us how easy it is to fall for a man like Bundy? Watch the trailer for yourself and see what you think.
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