This movie caught my eye when it was released a few years ago, during that weird summer where it felt like every serial killer was getting a biopic. That trend seems to have slowed down, and that’s probably for the best, but it did at least give us this movie. Zac Efron starring as Ted Bundy, a strange career turn, but an ultimately enjoyable film.
There are a lot of things to like about this movie. The costumes and set pieces are very good and put you right back in that era. It’s a movie, of course, that asks tough questions and doesn’t offer much in terms of answers. Casting Zac Efron as Ted Bundy was both a controversial and highly effective decision. The movie has other well-known actors, too, and everybody nails their scenes. It’s so easy to get lost in the charm of the film (much like the character himself), and by the end of it, you’re left scratching your head, but also kind of amazed.
If nothing else, this movie is a really good look at how Ted Bundy became the sensation he was. How easily people got swept up in it, in him. How we tend to assume people are innocent or guilty because we want to, not because of the evidence.
Quite a few of the scenes are recreated, sometimes word-for-word, from original footage of the killer and his trial. These are some of the most powerful ones, because Zac Efron does a great job portraying the villain. The public-facing, manipulative side, but also the sudden switch to dark anger. He does excellent in both roles.
This is a Ted Bundy movie, but it’s not about Ted Bundy. More specifically, it focuses on his longtime girlfriend, who is tormented by the constant news coverage of him and refuses to believe he could be guilty. As she grapples with her faith in him, it’s clear that Ted Bundy is taking another life, without using a weapon. The movie focuses on this: how he wrecked the lives of people who cared about him. It’s something I didn’t expect, and it makes the movie way better than your typical follow-a-serial-killer movie.
I do think the movie could have used a clearer, decisive outcome. Something to obviously state Bundy was a monster. There’s a scene near the end when the judge delivers the verdict, and he speaks directly to Ted Bundy. This offers the closest we get to an ultimatum. The moment where the Ted Bundy we’ve seen on screen, playing the innocent victim, meshes with the killer from the news clips that’ve been playing.
Again, this scene is almost word-for-word from the real-life footage. It’s hard to believe, but there are clips at the end of the movie that shows it. Like the whole thing was just pre-packed for Hollywood.
There’s a twist near the end of the movie that’s actually surprising. It has a few of them, really.
Not to mention, the movie has fantastic directing. The scene transitions, the camera angles. It makes you pay attention for the whole ride and grips you from end-to-end. It’s just a well-done movie, hitting all the small things, thrilling you and at the same time making you question the truth.
Ultimately, this is a daring movie that takes on a tough subject and manages to entertain but also make an impact. There are some flaws with it, but at the end you come away with more positive takeaways than negative. It’s definitely worth a watch, but probably just one, because after you’ve seen it one time it doesn’t have as much emotional impact.