Gone Girl *****
Dracula Untold ***
Life After Beth ***
Adapted by Gillian Flynn from her phenomenally bestselling novel, Gone Girl (16s) opens with Nick Dunne reporting the disappearance of his wife, Amy (Rosamund Pike), from their family home in North Carthage, Missouri.
Signs of a struggle suggest that Amy has been abducted, but Nick’s odd behaviour leads police detective Rhonda Boney (Kim Dickens) to make Nick the prime suspect. A conventional tale to open with, Gone Girl very quickly starts to twist, turn and loop-the-loop: Flynn and director David Fincher have modified the novel’s narrative structure but otherwise the movie remains faithful to the source material, embroiling Nick — who is, of course, nowhere as innocent as he pretends — in a wonderfully baroque tale that is part revenge thriller, part lurid psychological dissection, and part ‘domestic noir’.
Pike and Affleck are superb in the lead roles, not least because both are required to play ambivalent characters who become increasingly nasty in what amounts to a blizzard of revelations and volte-face turns — the story pulls few punches about the worst aspects of both male and female behaviour — while Dickens, Patrick Fugit and Carrie Coon provide strong support. Overly long for a thriller at 149 minutes, the movie is nevertheless full value for virtually every moment (the last 10 minutes or so are unnecessarily tacked on), and Fincher and Flynn further offer a fascinating variety of storytelling techniques — Nick’s first-person voice-over, the flashbacks courtesy of Amy’s diary, the distorting prism of media overkill — to tease out the truth of what really happened to Amy Dunne. It’s not perfect by any means, but Gone Girl is an intensely gripping thriller that offers one of the most fabulously entertaining femme fatales of the past two decades.
Opening in Transylvania in 1442, Dracula Untold (15A) is an origins tale about the most famous vampire of them all, blending historical and supernatural tropes to tell the story of how Prince Vlad Tepes (Luke Evans) became the blood-sucking ghoul. Already boasting a blood-curdling reputation as the man who impaled whole hosts of his prisoners on stakes whilst fighting for the Turks, Prince Vlad finds himself besieged by the Ottoman Empire in his Transylvanian home.
Desperate to defend his people, Vlad strikes a bargain with the creature known as Master Vampire (Charles Dance) whom he encounters in a cave high in the mountains — but has Vlad purchased victory at the price of his eternal soul? Gary Shore’s movie is an action-packed tale boasting lashings of blood and gore, in which Vlad turns into something of a superhero when Master Vampire confers his power upon him, becoming a one-man army who takes on the Turks single-handed.
Had the filmmakers allowed this farcical premise run on to its logical conclusion it might have all been a little easier to digest. Unfortunately, Dominic Cooper, in eye-rolling form playing the power-demented Sultan Mehmed, appears to be the only one to get the joke, and the movie’s portentous tone only emphasises the silliness of the proceedings.
That said, if you get on board with the bonkers notion at the heart of the story, it’s good old-fashioned sword-twirling, blood-guzzling fun.
The undead rise again in Life After Beth (15A), a movie that appears to be spun entirely from that pun in the title. Zack (Dane DeHaan), devastated by the death of his girlfriend Beth (Aubrey Plaza), is shocked to discover that she has been hiding out at the house of her parents, Maury (John C Reilly) and Geenie (Molly Shannon). Initially believing that Beth is engaged in a very sick joke, Zack only reluctantly accepts that Beth is in fact resurrected — or, to put it less kindly, a zombie. But how do you date the undead? Written and directed by Jeff Baena, the story offers a comic take on a zombie apocalypse, but while the performances are likeable — DeHaan and Reilly are particularly strong, and Plaza is delightfully ditzy as she attempts to animate her increasingly waxen character — it’s essentially a one-joke movie that grows, like Beth herself, rather stale after a while. That’s a pity, because the earlier section of the movie offers some thoughtful and amusing variations on the different ways in which people deal with bereavement.
Ultimately, however, Baena’s sly in-jokes about classic zombie movies, while funny, only throw the dearth of original ideas here into sharp contrast. Aficionados of the zombie genre will probably love it for its cinematic references and sheer chutzpah; otherwise, you may find yourself wishing that Beth had saved everyone the trouble by remaining six feet under.
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