Yes, There Is Something Weird About Zac Efron Playing Ted Bundy

Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile premiered at the Sundance film festival last weekend

Zac Efron as Ted Bundy

by Sofia Tindall |

The gig is up: Netflix’s algorithms have worked out that we like to binge on a murder documentary and they're giving the people what we want.

The latest to consume in a single Sunday spent under a duvet and emerging only for food and Whatsapp interaction is Conversations With a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes, a series of interviews cut with real-life courtroom footage and taped conversations that cover the criminal career of 1970's serial killer, rapist and necrophile Ted Bundy. It follows the 4-year-long spree between 1974 and 1978 during which Bundy murdered over thirty women.

His crimes were mostly sexually motivated and during the documentary we see some seriously bizarre ways that he tried to explain away his acts, even going as far as to blame the pornography industry in a statement he made two days before his death penalty was carried out "Those of use who are, who have been so much influenced by violence in the media, in particular pornographic violence, are not some kinds of inherent monsters". His youngest victim, Kim Leach was only twelve years old when Bundy abducted and murdered her.

But people are cottoning on to the fact that there's something different about this Netflix documentary. If you watched it this weekend, your though process might have been something like this "he seemed so normal" Ok, but he was a serial killer. "He was a handsome and charismatic man" yes but he was a serial killer, and then in possibly one of the weirdest moments when in his death sentencing comments when Judge Edward D. Cowart said “You’re a bright young man, you’d have made a good lawyer. I’d have loved to have you practice in front of me. But you went another way, partner.”: AGAIN. STILL A SERIAL KILLER.

One of the most frustrating elements throughout documentary was how often it skirted the recognition of Bundy's victims themselves, while interviews and courtroom footage seemed pre-occupied by a forensic discussion of how handsome Bundy was, how charismatic, how 'normal' he seemed.

What feels so frustrating is how in the meantime, the women he killed are reduced to faceless victims. Pictures of their naked and dismembered bodies were spliced with the graphic BDSM pornography Bundy favoured reducing them, as so many slasher documentaries do, to a sexualised trope. It capitalizes on their trauma so that they simply became devices through which to talk about Bundy rather than women who had identities, families and lives that were destroyed by someone who is now practically a post-humous Twitter celebrity.

Maybe it's not a surprise that in the dramatisation of Bundy's life - Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile which premiered at the Sundance last weekend - he's played by Zac Efron. But there is something deeply disturbing about it. People have a lot to say about positioning a teen heart throb to play the serial killer with good reason: sure it might get people talking about the film and be great for Zac Efron to play something more challenging than a floppy-haired teen heart throb but we're not talking about the immortalizing life of groundbreaking activist or controversial sporting figure or a political whistleblower - we're talking about a rapist and serial killer.

After all, what Ted Bundy wanted more than anything was to be seen, to be handsome, to be charming and influential and every stunt or speech he gave to the media contributed to that relentless campaign for celebrity. I love a crime documentary binge as much as the next person. But in the case of figures like Ted Bundy, the way his story is being told resurrects a man who strove for the recognition that we've given him - while reducing he women whose lives and those of their living relatives that he tore apart simply to a subtext.

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