Box Office Democracy: Gone Girl & Annabelle
David Fincher is a fantastic director who has spent most of his career making movies I don’t particularly care for. Not because they’re bad but just because I’m not interested in the story he’s telling. I wasn’t interested in The Social Network, I had no patience for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, and I never quite got swept in the madness for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Panic Room was the last film that I was truly excited for and even then I waited for it to be on cable. I’m back in the fold in a big was now though, Gone Girl is an exceptional film and a worthy kick-off to awards season.
First and foremost, a director is responsible for getting the best performances out of his actors and the performances in Gone Girl are superb all the way around. Ben Affleck will get the most attention out of this film, and anyone who sees this film and thinks he can’t handle playing Batman is an idiot, but we’ll be hearing about Affleck for months so I want to shine a light on performances more likely to be overlooked. Rosamund Pike is transcendent in this film; she’s great delivering lines but she’s an amazing force when she’s silent. Carrie Coon does great work with what could have been a throwaway part in a lesser movie. She manages to be both the emotional and logical center as the movie slowly reveals that everyone else in the movie is kind of shitty at everything. Tyler Perry is delightful, why does he waste so much time doing his own terrible movies? I haven’t heard anyone else mention her but Missi Pyle plays a Nancy-Grace-esque TV host and she’s so pitch perfect that I couldn’t help but crack up every time she was on screen. It’s truly amazing work all around and with lesser work this film could have been little better than a Lifetime movie.
The best bits of filmmaking in Gone Girl are the moments that feel almost serene but then the score begins to creep in. Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross did masterful work creating a score that’s deep and pulsating and can turn any moment in to a piece of growing tension. It’s incredible work and without getting too far in to spoiler territory it turns a particularly shocking moment in to an all-time moment in cinema.
Gone Girl isn’t perfect by any means. Neil Patrick Harris feels a few shades too white to play a man named Desi. The moral ambiguity is definitely going to turn off the aging wing of the Academy when it comes time to hand out gold statues. A character that feels very important early in the film just completely drops off the face of the earth in the second half with no explanation. There don’t feel like fatal flaws, they feel like the tiny imperfections you notice in the face of a loved one, they feel like they round the movie in to a more beautiful whole.
I probably would have liked Annabelle more if I hadn’t seen it 14 hours after seeing Gone Girl. It’s a perfectly serviceable modern horror movie. It has an authentic-feeling demon nemesis and plenty of jump scares, which is all the audience, really seems to demand anymore. Annabelle is clever in some of its execution and papers over nicely the times it borrows from its predecessor, The Conjuring but it’s hard to deal with just how much worse a movie it is, especially when they often feel similar.
Both Annabelle and Gone Girl are movies about the horrors of domesticity. Both feature women in vulnerable times in their marriages and while both go to some fantastical places it feels so much less subtle to have post-partum depression represented by a literal demon. There’s also a world of difference in the ways both films try and make you uncomfortable, which both are undoubtedly trying to do. Gone Girl makes you invest in the characters and slowly builds situations where the audience can feel that something absolutely has to give whereas Annabelle provides horror by keeping the rules of its universe unreasonably vague so that they can pull scares out of anywhere without having to cop to their own lack of authenticity. These are problems I always have with these cheesy horror films but it’s especially troubling to have them underlined so dramatically by another film the same weekend.
It’s much harder to forgive Annabelle for the shameless way it leans on the Magical Negro trope. There is only one black character in this film (although to be fair there are only like five characters in this film at all) and she is a wise old black woman who seems to exist only to feed important plot points or thematic insight to the white protagonist. While I don’t want to just tell you how this movie ends I will say that it heavily involves this black character doing something that doesn’t feel remotely authentic. It’s insulting to see a character used this way and it scars what is the otherwise pretty decent progressive step of not having any of the male characters accusing the female main character of being crazy when bad things start happening to her.
It would be easier to get worked up over Annabelle if I thought it would mean anything at all to do so. Hollywood is good for five or six Annabelle-esque movies a year from now until they become unprofitable and Annabelle made five times its budget just this weekend. I can hope the next one will be less racist, or not make a big deal about upstairs neighbors only for the finale to reveal the family lives on the top floor, or to have a slightly less cliché demonic symbol but that’s about all I can hope for. These movies will come, I won’t care for them much, Hollywood marches on.