By Jarrod Jones. Even if you haven’t read Gillian Flynn’s novel Gone Girl, odds are you’ve heard of it. Or perhaps you have at least a peripheral awareness of the icy thriller that merited the insufferable “oohs” and “aahs” that filled the otherwise still air of the theater where I screened David Fincher’s latest, and you realized that even though you hadn’t read the book, you didn’t have to. That maybe you had it better than all the kids about you who couldn’t help but chuckle at the film’s ominous foreshadowings, and, instead of anticipating at a froth the stories’ engrossing twists and turns, you were legitimately, viscerally, compelled by them. There may be some spite attached to this statement, but when it comes to novel-to-film adaptations, I have to say (without having read the book), the film has to be better.

Because if you haven’t read Gone Girl, you know someone who has. And if you’re like me and somehow successfully avoided any and all spoilers leading up to the film’s release by dodging casual conversation, or you somehow deflected all those internet trolls intent on ruining it for you, or you artfully dodged the slip of a girlfriend’s tongue – even without touching a page from Flynn’s fiction – David Fincher’s Gone Girl is going to knock. You. Dead. There’s no preparation for the labyrinth of emotional havoc this film is going to put upon you, and there’s no preparing for the empty, frightening feeling that awaits you once the house lights turn back on.

There is some difficulty in describing Gone Girl without spoiling the whole, sordid affair, but here goes: the film tackles the relationship of Nick and Amy Dunne (Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike), from their serendipitous first meeting to their whiplash courtship in New York City just before the 2008 financial disaster. The story assembles these sequences to run parallel to the day of and the days following Amy’s mysterious disappearance, and Nick’s subsequently awkward and ham-fisted attempts to cooperate with astute police detective Rhonda Boney (Kim Dickens) and the media that have swallowed this tragedy whole. Under the scrutiny of the nation’s press, it’s not long before Nick begins to look rather suspicious: whether he’s inappropriately smiling for the cameras, or he’s being too nice to the volunteers tasked with searching for Amy, Nick can’t seem to catch a break with the public at large or even those close to him. And as Fincher starts pulling the narrative’s strings taut, that suspicion becomes very palpable. Did Nick murder his wife? That’s a damned good question.

Fincher paints these sequences with an ominous sophistication, once again employing magnificent cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth (who received an Oscar nom for his work on Fincher’s The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo). The duo slowly peel back the thin, fleshy upper layer of Gillian Flynn’s lurid thriller (adapted to the screen by the novelist herself) to reveal the hardened, angry scales underneath. Everything from the cosmopolitan life of Amy and Nick (pre-financial crash) to their plasti-sheen Missourian suburbia is a false front barely obscuring the stalactites that line the damning chasm beneath. That’s the sinister appeal to Gone Girl: its morbid fascination with evil tempers you so that when the blood finally flows, you don’t dare look away.

When Fincher’s film bothers to be topical, it’s handled with far more subtlety than The Social Network: the film tackles the easily relatable problems that stem from the impotence one feels when the world runs off with your money, and the catastrophe that follows for the relationships that depend on someone to earn a living. That topical poignancy, coupled with an underlying feeling of dread, allows Flynn’s mystery to be presented with the decorum of a slasher movie, where even the safest place in the world can easily turn into a chamber of horrors.

There are but only a few minor gripes with Gone Girl, but they exist and are owed more to Gillian Flynn’s melodrama than to Fincher’s icily-constructed tapestry. The soap-operatic tone of the story paves the way to colorfully absurd archetypes, like Amy’s wealthy, indifferent parents (Lisa Banes and David Clennon, in ridiculous matching outfits), the straight-arrow officer who exists simply to articulate the audience’s suspicions (Patrick Fugit), and others who elicit pathetic chuckles, like Amy’s podunk-breeder neighbor (Casey Wilson, clutching at her womb as often as her pearls). They’re all functional when Gone Girl delves into a Coen Bros-level of sardonic humor, and the film’s ghoulish levity is surprisingly, shockingly funny, but they’re all just superficial avatars, in the flesh on screen without breathing any extra life into the film.

Others fare much better: Kim Dickens’ no-bullshit detective is quick on the draw with her yellow Post-Its, and how she immerses herself into Amy’s mystery makes slipping into the alchemy of Fincher’s yarn all the more enjoyable, but the story finds it necessary to shelve her character for much of the film’s second half. Tyler Perry dials back his ham considerably as Nick’s super-attorney Tanner Bolt, supplying the film with a tempered, good-natured performance not typically associated with the entertainment mogul. And Carrie Coon, as Nick’s twin sister Margo, is the moral minority of the film. That responsibility visibly takes a toll for the character, and Coon’s performance adds to the film a necessary gravity.

Ben Affleck, with his hulking, Batman-sized shoulders, has ironed out his early ’00s leading man facade into an iron-jawed actor of surprising depth and nuance, but Gone Girl is undeniably Rosamund Pike’s movie. The majesty of Flynn’s story projected through the prism of David Fincher’s unflinching eye gives Amy Dunne a shocking profundity, where even the most innocuous tremor beneath Pike’s placid, beautiful face induces the coldest of chills. The film bookends itself with long, loving looks into Pike’s wide, blank eyes, but the feelings they elicit in the beginning of the movie and the end are night and day.  Once the credits roll on Gone Girl, you are left to re-enter the world stripped bare, cold, and alone. It’s an exhilarating feeling.