In Hollywood, sex and scandal corral in audiences by the thousands and for good reason- but where is the distinction between telling an honest story and romanticising an unworthy person? American cinema is no stranger to the twisted films surrounding murderers, rapists, and sadists. Look no further than the classic, American Psycho (2001), a film that performed outstandingly in box offices and has lingered as a classic.
In their latest attempt to win over audiences, COTA Films has created Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile (2019). In what appears to be a continuation of a celebration of violence and scandal in Hollywood, the film is based on the harrowing real story of serial killer Ted Bundy. Bundy, who is played by Hollywood heartthrob Zac Efron, is portrayed as a charismatic, sexy villain. The film appears to focus on building a man with a story beyond that of his criminal charges. But the film airs on the side of romanticizing the most notorious murderer of the twentieth century who was found responsible for the rape and murder of over thirty women. It’s one thing to portray a story but to distort real criminals into people they aren’t seems a tad classless.
Even more troubling is the recent news of Netflix picking up the film; the film will soon be available to wide audiences that have heralded Efron throughout his career and pose a problem in how younger generations perceive Bundy’s actions.
The initial release of the film’s trailer has sparked both uproar and appraisal on Twitter as audiences reacted to the initial preview at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival.
While some nod to the film’s acknowledgement of Bundy’s strategic use of charisma to appeal to females, others claim the film is sexualizing Bundy for young female audiences to consume.
Efron himself has come forward to ensure that the film isn’t a “celebration” or “glorification of him” but rather a “psychological study of who [Bundy] was.”
But the fact remains, Ted Bundy was a serial killer. Yes, he was a human being, but so were every single one of his victims. Giving depth to his story as a misunderstood outsider only excuses the behavior that Bundy exhibited towards women. Ted Bundy may have been a person with depth, but it does not change the heinous crimes he committed.
Films serve to tell a story, but is revisiting the story of America’s most dangerous serial killer a worthy cause or just another mistake in our consumption of real crime?
Only time will tell. Unless Hollywood decides to tell the story for us, of course.