Maybe you oughta call that wedding off.
Gone Girl is vintage David Fincher. It bears all the fast-paced twisting and turning so familiar to anyone who’s seen his other works. But where most of those were either overly energetic (The Social Network) or way too plodding (Curious Case of Benjamin Button, ahem), this one straddles the best of both worlds. It tears you to pieces with its series of frights and chills, yet all the while maintains a satirical, reflective, daresay elegant outlook. Even if you know the plot, the movie offers a hair-raising ride through the dark depths of revenge and unrequited love.
Gone Girl begins and revolves around what ought to be a day for celebration. It’s anniversary #5 for Nick (a grumpy Ben Affleck) and Amy Dunne (Rosamund Pike), a young couple who live in small-town Missouri alongside Nick’s spunky twin Margo (Carrie Coon). Only problem: Amy isn’t around. Nick comes home from the bar to find the living room table overturned, specks of blood dotting the kitchen floor, and Amy’s dress still hot on the ironing board. Given that they just chatted that same morning, Nick decides to call the police, who send the hard-nosed Detective Boney (Kim Dickens) to investigate. When Amy still doesn’t return after 24 hours, more concerted rescue efforts begin, spearheaded by her snobbish parents (Lisa Banes, David Clennon). As the search thickens, we learn more and more disquieting details about Nick and Amy’s marriage, both through flashbacks in Amy’s diary and current events in Nick’s life.
Slowly but surely, we come to realize that all is not well beneath those smiling faces on the camera. The entire movie wraps itself around a glaring exposé of the gaping, unnerving differences between shiny appearances and sordid reality. Nick and Amy’s nightmarish experiences continually force them to reflect on just how little they actually know about the people and events in their lives – and, for us, just how little we know about those in ours. Whether it’s through the over-hyped 24/7 media circus around Nick, the increasingly disturbing discoveries we make about Amy, or each character’s burning, instinctive need to put on the best possible appearance for others, this movie rips through our happy notions of interpersonal harmony and mutual, “be yourself” understanding. In Gillian Flynn’s twisted reality, you can never really know who someone is without, as Nick memorably puts it, “cracking her skull and spooling her brains out.”
Beyond these reflections on human character, the movie finds its real raison d’etre in its solid array of blood-curdling thrills. With the help of a spooky soundtrack, Fincher orchestrates the tension so that the story never loses interest. It deftly launches back and forth between slow build-ups and violent bursts of action. You can almost feel the minds behind the screen toying with you, throwing out red herrings and wild curves with a verve that leaves even experienced thrill-seekers helpless. It maddens, and yet turns out to be so inexplicably addicting. Fincher’s skill is such that he can even make a murder scene where the dying character spurts out gallons of blood look hauntingly alluring. Guilty delight is the only emotion left in his wake.
More critical moviegoers will point out the movie’s several plot and character deficiencies. After all, the crucial setback in Amy’s half of the story involves a major, out-of-character oversight. When it comes down to it, Nick and Amy are both fairly sociopathic, if not psychopathic. If you want lovable characters, the nastiness of what happens in this movie can be a put-off. In its defense, however, the events it shows are only a small, screen-polished portion of the novel’s all-out quagmire of obscenities and filth. And the main performances by Affleck and Pike are so artfully handled that we don’t even realize how sick Nick and Amy are. Affleck plays resentful fecklessness to a fault, right down to the un-tucked shirt and bravado walk. Pike lands a stunning breakout role as the underhandedly monstrous wife, strangely fascinating even at her worst. These people may not be your role models, but you’ve gotta admire their tenacity. Together, they add an extra degree of absorbing back-and-forth to Fincher’s already-engrossing direction.
I walked into Gone Girl fairly cool to the thriller, mystery, and psychology mind-bender genres. Perhaps the heaps of praise I’ve just thrown on this movie reflect naiveté from someone who needs to get out and see more hard-core films. But this movie undeniably has a way of entrancing even the most risk-averse audience member. The acting, editing, script, score, and directing are all laced together with a scarily-impeccable synchronization. It gets to the point where that nagging, doubting voice in the back of your head might start applying the movie’s lessons to real life. Yes, maybe this movie is crazy, totally off-base with the places it’s willing to go. But in the moment, it all feels so incredibly, creepily real. And that’s exactly why it works.
Gone Girl (2014)
Starring: Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, Neil Patrick Harris, Tyler Perry
Running Time: 149 minutes
Produced by: Leslie Dixon, Bruna Papandrea, Reese Witherspoon, Ceán Chaffin
Directed by: David Fincher
Written by: Gillian Flynn
Based on Gillian Flynn’s 2012 novel of the same name.
Image of creepy Amy Dunne here.