There are plenty of horror movies that don’t come close to being “scary.” They can be startling, but that’s bargain-rate scare. Aliens, robots, and devils aren’t necessarily the stuff of good horror, since they only frighten those who harbor a real and justified fear of them. Real terror comes from the understatement of what’s in front of us, and the psychology of those with whom we share a home.
It’s fitting that Gone Girl opened in theaters on Friday, Oct. 3, the month of the calendar’s spookiest holiday. The villains are regular-type folks who view the world with bottomless contempt and manipulate others like they’re marionettes; they put Urban Dictionary to shame by dramatically redefining “bitchcraft.” The screenplay, penned by the book’s author Gillian Flynn, is a deserving adaptation of one of the most fun reads from the decade so far.
Ben Affleck plays Nick Dunne (as in ‘Dunne for,’ ‘who-Dunne-it’), a self-described “corn-fed, salt-of-the-earth Missourian” and husband of Amy Dunne (Rosamund Pike), a poster child for her parents’ Amazing Amy children’s book series. The two share a fabled and literally saccharine getting-to-know-you backstory, but the nuptial phase fades out quickly after both lose their jobs and move to Missouri. The Dunnes reject becoming humdrum drones in married life to the point where they’re the kind of couple that keeps a room just for their cat. Amy disappears on their fifth wedding anniversary, and the plot is so intricately wound together that to explain anymore would veer into spoiler territory.
Gone Girl takes every commonplace neo-noir and “whodunit” trope, twists it, and wrings it out. From the opening frames, the static shots of the streets in Missouri are portentous. The credits appear and vanish abruptly. Nothing has happened yet, but you’re already riddled with a vague sense of unease. By thirty minutes in, the already-remote possibility of a happy ending seems like a much dimmer prospect.
Watching a David Fincher movie is a sensory experience with inordinate stylistic cues. Cicadas buzz in the trees over the sound of shouting journalists. A bird chirping chokes out a woman’s scream. Nick wears a large “MISSING: AMY DUNNE” button during a candlelight vigil, and it awkwardly hangs on his blazer’s lapel, cumbersome and almost mocking.
The score, the third collaboration between Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross following Fincher’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and The Social Network, is the soundtrack of nightmares. The music is punctuated with rhythmic camera shutters while unseen photographers barrage Nick at home.
One of the most remarkable elements is how the story relies on an ensemble of well-drawn fringe characters. This includes the dead-eyed predatory TV commentator Ellen Abbott, who follows the investigation like a ravenous vulture circles a rat, or Amy’s yuppie ex-boyfriend Desi Collins (Neil Patrick Harris), or the tweaking teenager who hangs out in a decrepit mall, rattling off the Gettysburg Address at the same speed he would devour a bottle of amphetamine pills.
Not only is the rug pulled out from under you, but also the floorboards are plied off with a crowbar. Sympathies are teased with like a cat that chases futilely after a laser dot. Expectations are consistently flipped upside down like a glass coffee table, and that is what makes Gone Girl one of the best noir movies of recent memory.
This story was originally published online for The Daily Emerald on October 6, 2014: http://dailyemerald.com/2014/10/04/sea-of-love-why-gone-girl-might-be-the-best-noir-film-in-years/
For more stories I’ve written for The Daily Emerald, go to: http://dailyemerald.com/author/emalone/