This movie dropped on Netflix not long after the documentary series “Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes”, also directed by Joe Berlinger, but tells the story of Ted Bundy (played by Zac Efron) from a different perspective. The script was adapted from the book “The Phantom Prince: My Life With Ted Bundy” written by Bundy’s long-time girlfriend Elizabeth Kloepfer (played by Lily Collins), who was with him during the murders he committed and some of the subsequent trials.
The cliffs notes about Ted Bundy from current pop culture is that he was a “hunky” and “charming” psychopath who fooled everyone into thinking he was normal but was one of the most prolific serial killers in American history. I don’t 100% agree with this perspective of who he was, which I will get into shortly, but it completely makes sense for this specific story to be told from that perspective. The movie details the relationship between Bundy and Kloepfer, how they fell in love at a vulnerable time in her life and the turmoil she went through when he was arrested and convicted of murdering multiple women. Who of us hasn’t fallen in love with someone who turned out to be a total asshole? Probably not on the same level as Bundy but the old adage is true that love is blind.
Efron and Collins both give believable and worthwhile performances and the cast is filled out by some who’s who of character actors. I do appreciate that Collins’ character is given a more satisfying and complex arc than “love-sick girlfriend” when it comes to her obsession with Bundy. Efron is great and continues to surprise me in every role I see him in. I do wish this film allowed him to go a bit more batshit as Bundy but that’s a side of him very few living people got to see. Although he was great in this role I do think the casting was a bit of a miss. Efron is a grade-A beefcake and if you really look at Ted Bundy he was a squirrelly-eyed needle-nosed skinny turd.
A lot of people have written this movie off because it doesn’t go into much detail about his crimes or acknowledge his victims. I don’t think that was the point. The movie portrays him from the perspective of the people that thought they knew him. The only women who knew who he really was died by his hand. Monsters live among us in plain sight and no one has a clue. Kloepfer wrote in her book that there were only two times in her relationship with Bundy where he was ever angry or close to violent with her. How many other people could say the same thing about their partners?
My theory is that Bundy got away with what he did because he lived in a time when people weren’t as “woke” as they are now. Women didn’t feel comfortable outing men as creeps, domestic violence was still common in relationships and the idea that women were not responsible for their sexual assaults was barely a thing. These aspects of society played a huge part in why the 1970s was an insane time for serial killer activity! I’m still waiting to see this story told from that perspective but for now this is a decent watch.