The problem with the Ted Bundy movie is behind the camera
There have been countless condemnations of the way in which Ted Bundy’s character is portrayed in wake of the release of the trailer for “Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile.” The trailer for this movie, in which Hollywood hunk Zac Efron plays Bundy, a famous serial killer and rapist, makes him out to be a sexy, charismatic rock star that took the world by storm with his outlaw antics. The response from Twitter was instantaneous, with people either saying, and I’m paraphrasing, “This is bad,” or, “Yas Efron, slay!! Get it? Cause Bundy killed people.”
People were quick to try and shut down those who pointed out the problems with casting such an attractive man to play Bundy, stating that Bundy was a famously charismatic killer who used his looks and charm to both seduce his victims to their brutal deaths and to avoid arrest. His being white in a time and place where black men were commonly blamed for crimes of this nature certainly didn’t hurt him either when it came to the investigation, but I’m not here to discuss racism in the police force.
I’m here to discuss framing. I’m personally of the belief that there is nothing wrong with casting a very attractive man to play an evil one. Just look at Jake Gyllenhall’s character in “Nightcrawler.” He’s creepy and frightening, yet no one can deny that Jake is a hottie. Efron was not wrong to take the part. The error lies with the director, Joe Berlinger, and the studio that made the trailer. To take a serial killer who famously committed heinous acts of violence against women and practiced necrophilia and frame him as “the bad boy of the justice system” as he parades in a fanciful suit around the courtroom while the judge (played by John Malkovich) says he’s “skating on thin ice,” with rock ‘n’ roll playing in the background gives him more glamour than he deserves.
This isn’t to say that every movie with a serial killer needs to be a dark horror with a dehumanized and distant murderer like that of Jason. The sin of “Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile” is not the humanization of a real life person who committed these real life crimes or even the fact that a hot guy was cast in the role. The sin of the movie is to make him cool, to immortalize him as the sexy serial killer that people are less ashamed than they probably should be to thirst over on social media, to make him glamorous.
But why does framing matter? Let’s take a secondary character in another movie who was studied by YouTuber Lindsay Ellis. She’s a woman who used to steal cars with her father and fix them up, giving her a useful knowledge of cars (that the men in her life frequently underestimate), a father behind bars and a criminal record. Then, put her in a situation where she and a hapless man happen upon a race of mechanical aliens that turn into cars. In the climax of the movie, this woman is finally able to use her automotive knowledge to help her robot friends win the fight.
This character is Mikaela Banes, played by Megan Fox from “Transformers.” In her video “Framing Megan Fox,” Ellis describes how Banes actually had the most robust storyline, the most character growth and the highest stakes of any of the human characters in the movie; yet, in her own fanbase, she found that people found the character forgettable and thought that the movie treated her as nothing more than eye candy.
This is because of the framing. Ellis shows scenes in which Mikaela shows genuine character growth, something the protagonist, played by Shia LeBeouf, lacks almost completely. But all of those scenes feature camera work that is more reminiscent of a Victoria’s Secret commercial than that of a movie. While she shows her car knowledge in the script, proving she has expertise that could be vital to the plot, the camera is giving us midriff, tits and ass. Now this would be fine if the average viewer could focus on two things at once and actually view Mikaela critically. However, Ellis found that based on the responses she got on Twitter, your average viewer can’t do that, and character development gets lost in the framing.
In one trailer alone, people have already lost sight of Bundy’s actual character and have immediately started objectifying and glamorizing him. Just like Mikaela Banes, the true nature of this character has been lost by the framing. I don’t think it’s right to blame Efron for this, the same way one wouldn’t blame Fox for Michael Bay making a mediocre movie that fails to respect women even a little. The director of “Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile,” Berlinger, may have some explaining to do when the movie comes out.