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Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile

Year: 2019
Production Co: COTA Films
Director: Joe Berlinger
Writer: Michael Werwie
Cast: Zac Efron, Lily Collins, Kaya Scodelario, Dylan Baker, Jim Parsons, John Malkovich, Haley Joel Osment

None of the cute kids from Disney or Nickelodeon movies can stay that way forever no matter how chiselled their cheekbones or dainty their steps. We had no idea back when The Princess Diaries came out that Anne Hathaway would go on to awards-worthy dramas like Brokeback Mountain, Rachel Getting Married or Les Miserables.

We probably had similarly little idea while watching the perky, muscular kid from High School Musical that he'd one day play an utterly convincing role as a charming man who happened to be a serial killer (although after Hairspray and Dirty Grandpa, his turn into drama is more surprising that Hathaway's was).

We all know what Ted Bundy was, but throughout the 1970s anyone who knew him saw a warm, loquacious guy who might have had a slight dark side. His longtime girlfriend, single mother Liz Kendall (Lily Collins, in a similarly very grown up performance as Zac Efron playing Bundy) certainly never saw any sign of the monster history would reveal him to be during the decade or so that he became family to her and her daughter.

If you don't know much more about Bundy's legacy beyond the headlines this movie is worth watching to appreciate the actual story of his killings if nothing else. It's something the script by Michael Werwie manages to deftly weave in amongst the human drama between he, Liz and his later champion and girlfriend Carole Ann (Kaya Scodelario, who I originally mistook for Mary Elizabeth Winstead).

You might have heard about the VW bug that become iconic in his case, the fact that he fired his counsel and represented himself during his trial for the murders in Florida and other facets of the case, but Bundy wasn't a blood-drinking vampire stalking around America every night slaughtering thousands.

His killings were opportunistic, sometimes few and far between, and took place across several states and jurisdictions in an age before computer databases and similar methods to share information and solve crimes. Bundy hid not only behind the blanket of years and vast distances, but the limits of practical detective work.

And like it would have been in his life among friends, colleagues and lovers, his killings all happen off screen. As more murders come to light and his car, whereabouts or proximity prompt local cops to consider him a suspect, you wonder if Bundy is even aware of what he's done, as if he murdered so many people in a psychotic fugue and went back to being a normal guy the next day.

So not only will you feel like you know the legal and practical details of his bloodthirsty career better, the script and director Joe Berlinger choose interesting thematic and chronological ways to tell the story, which brings it further to life. Aside from the well-built narrative the dressing, clothes, hairstyles and other period detail look authentic, even the cinematography tinged with a constant brownish hue that really evokes the 70s.

There was probably never any real doubt Efron could act, but it's only a script with so much meat like this one that lets him really lift off.

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