Ted Bundy is enjoying a bit of a comeback these days. He's still very much dead, but his pop culture star has blown up thanks to a four-part Netflix docuseries (Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes) and an upcoming movie starring Zac Efron with the longwinded title Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile. The former is already out, and perhaps you've already binged it. Netflix has it right up top. The latter is yet to be released for us peons, but screened at Sundance Film Festival over the weekend. (Both premieres came in tandem with the 30-year anniversary of the serial killer's execution.)
Without further ado, here's some choice lines from critics who made their way to Park City to see Efron star as the infamous murderer. Folks hyped for the biopic might want to cool their jets.
Unlike other depth-plumbing heartthrobs like Jared Leto in Chapter 27 or Charlize Theron in Monster, Efron doesn’t require extreme weight gain or prosthetic teeth to transform, just an as-yet-unseen ability to lean into his dark side.
More importantly, here's what he said about the performance:
The most shocking thing about the film is Efron’s remarkably accomplished, fiercely committed performance. As Bundy, he ruthlessly weaponises the boyish charm that’s propelled much of his career, slyly convincing us of the spell he cast, not only on Liz but the many other women who were fighting his corner, sure of his innocence. It’s the career-changing moment he was clearly seeking and with an executive producer credit, one can understand his impassioned involvement, a juicy opportunity to break away from his pretty boy shackles and prove that he’s deserving of more dramatic work. But away from his standout turn, it’s a whole lot harder to figure out what those around him saw in the project.
The review's succinct conclusion—"Efron is wicked, the film less so"—seems to be a theme for many critics.
A truly uncanny performance, Efron said during a Q+A that he was not trying to do an impersonation from Bundy (as you now know, there are plenty of tapes he had to go on, and an entire televised court case), but "was very pleased we had the same sort of mannerisms...we do the same things."
She also centered her review on the premise that the fears Bundy would be portrayed as a sympathetic character were unfounded, ending by saying:
There were no graphic murders or sexualization of his crimes. Bundy was just as the title suggests: evil and vile. For that, Efron has a reason to be proud.
Variety's Owen Gleiberman admired Efron's use of his "insidious charisma to grab us from the start," and raved about his depiction:
I think he’s startlingly good: controlled, magnetic, audacious, committed, and eerily right. ... Ted is a kind of actor, a maniac playing a role, yet doing it with such sincerity and flair that it’s not just a role. It’s the person a part of him wants to be.
He also noted Efron thrives in the scenes where he impersonates Bundy acting as his own lawyer during his over-the-top trial:
Efron’s acting takes wing in these scenes. We see the desperate soul hidden in the psycho hidden in the charlatan hidden in the handsome straight-arrow. Ted’s got more tricks in court than Johnnie Cochran — he’s like the world’s most impassioned used-car salesman.
As for Vulture's Emily Yoshida, she said the film was a showcase for Efron but that it didn't have much else going for it. Specifically, she highlighted a lack of perspective that doesn't really have Efron to blame:
None of this [lack of perspective] is the fault of lead (and producer) Zac Efron, who disappears into Bundy’s glib persona as well as Zac Efron’s face can be said to disappear into anything. The natural gleam in Efron’s Tiger Beat eyes becomes something harder and more sinister the deeper into the case we get, a curtain drawn around a crime scene. But early in the film, when he meets single mother Liz for the first time at a Seattle college bar, he’s just the hot guy everyone would like to think was stealing a glance at them across the room.
She wraps up her thoughts with a final compliment for Efron, though it comes at the expense of the movie as a whole:
If the narrative film only exists to give us the unsettling sliminess of Efron as Bundy, it won’t be a total waste. But it’s not much of a movie, either.
Be your own judge when it comes to theaters...whatever day it comes to theaters. Keep your eyes peeled for a date soon.