As several people have pointed out, and as director Joe Berlinger has insisted, this trailer is meant to show the Spider and the Fly quality of men like Ted Bundy. Considered handsome and charming, he was able to use those qualities to both lure the women he raped and murdered, and evade capture for so long. It’s also part of the reason his trial became such a public spectacle, since many people had a hard time believing that this seemingly “all-American good boy” type could be capable of such heinous things. There really were a bunch of women who were almost like groupies, and Ted Bundy even married one woman (Carole Ann Boone, played by Kaya Scodelario) during his trial, after proposing to her in the courtroom. With all of those things in mind and watching the trailer through that lens, I can see what they were going for. However, I don’t think a trailer should require clarification, so I also understand why many people feel like it presents Bundy as some sexy, renegade bad boy and are upset. Everything that transpires in this movie happened in the recent enough past that the families and friends of the women Bundy murdered are still around, and I know I’d feel horrified if my daughter or sister had been a victim of his and I saw a trailer that was cut together like this. There’s something about it that almost seems to suggest ambiguity in a situation where there was absolutely none.
So the trailer might be a mess, but what about the movie? It depends on who you ask. I’ve read a lot of the reviews of those who’ve seen it at Sundance, and there doesn’t seem to be a clear consensus. It may be that someone’s existing feelings are going to determine the details they pick up on in the movie. One said that Extremely Wicked was ultimately a a story about gaslighting, another that it succeeds in showing how horrifying Bundy was in a non-sensationalized way. On the less positive side, some thought the movie had potential that wasn’t fully realized and others were very sharp with their criticisms, with accusations that it glamorizes a monster.
This subject matter is not at all for everyone, so there are some people who are simply never going to want to watch this movie, and I get that. At this point, I’m still intrigued enough that I’ll probably go see it. If nothing else, I’d like to see for myself how well the filmmakers pull off what they say they’re trying to achieve. That being said, I sincerely hope that future trailers and other marketing pivots away from the tone of this first one. It certainly got everyone talking, but most people didn’t have nice things to say. Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile is the kind of movie that’s walking an incredibly delicate line. I still think it has the possibility to be an interesting story about violence against women, misogyny, and the way society and the media bends over backwards to let white men off the hook, but nobody is going to see that story if audiences are turned off before the movie even hits theaters.