At the conclusion of the film that shares the same name as the title of this blog, my first thoughts were not about what I had just watched. Instead, they were about a biography I had seen on cable several years prior. The biography was on serial killer John Wayne Gacy, and there was a period of time, where it, and biographies of other members of his deadly and disturbed ilk, were shown on the BIO channel, on what seemed a regular basis. I am not sure if the channel is contractually obligated to show each individual biography a certain number of times, but the one on Gacy seemed to be on quite a bit.
Nothing that transpires in the 102 minute thriller, “A Good Marriage,” specifically reminded me of Gacy. Stephen King, who wrote the screenplay, adapted from one of the stories in his 2010 novella “Full Dark, No Stars” was inspired by the real story of BTK (Bind, Torture, Kill) murderer, Dennis Rader. BTK killed ten people in Kansas between 1974 and 1991. What I remembered hearing spoken at the end of the Gacy biography was by his sister. She said that none of what Gacy had done, in relation to his killing, and the other acts of depravity he had committed on the men he had murdered, made sense for his character. She knew him, as her loving brother John, and was crying, as she spoke of the last time they saw one another, before he was put to death by the state of Illinois. Why did the film remind me of that part of the biography? The answer is twofold: Firstly, at the heart of King’s story and the film, is the question: How can we be certain we know all there is to know about the people we love the most in this world? The individuals who are the closest to us shouldn’t be able to hide an inner monster that commits heinous acts. They aren’t supposed to be capable of extreme evil, come back home and once again resume the role of devoted, loving spouse and doting parent, without exposing to us that something with them is not right. Secondly, King took Dennis Rader and his wife, as the models for the villain and the horrified, unknowing spouse, in his story because he remembered the media hounding BTK’s wife. She was constantly asked: How she couldn’t have known that she was married to a murderer for all the years they were together.
Directed by Peter Askin (Trumbo), the film was released in a limited number of theaters on October 3, 2014. I didn’t get a chance to see it while it was playing in the theater. Instead, I watched it a few nights ago on Netflix. At the start of the movie, Bob and Darcy Anderson are celebrating their 25th wedding anniversary. Darcy, portrayed by three time Academy Award nominee Joan Allen (The Contender), runs a rare coin business. Bob, acted by Golden Globe and Emmy winner Anthony LaPaglia (Without a Trace), is an accountant. Bob shares his wife’s love of coins, and has been looking for a penny from the year 1955. He won’t purchase the penny on ebay or another website that sells coins, he wants to find the penny by chance. In addition, making one of several brief appearances throughout the film, before he is given any real screen time, is Stephen Lang’s (Avatar) mysterious character. The motives for his watching the seemingly happy couple are made clear toward the film’s end. He is sitting at a nearby bar, observing Bob and Darcy’s anniversary party. He witnesses, Bob give Darcy a gift of gold fish earrings. Bob states that he got them for her because her astrological sign is that of a Pisces. The next day, he leaves Darcy, to go on one of his frequent business trips.
While Darcy is watching the evening news, a story comes on about the latest victim of a serial killer known as ‘Beadie.’ An individual who has raped and murdered a dozen women. His signature, after the gruesome act, is to always mail the driver’s license of his latest victim to the authorities. He does so to show how proud he is of himself, and how he views the police department as nothing more than a bunch of incompetent fools who can’t catch him. After the news story is over, while changing the channels, Darcy comes upon a slasher film; eager to change the station, the batteries in the remote stop working. Out of frustration, wanting to get the graphic images and sounds off of her television, she walks over and unplugs the cord from the wall. Afterward, she heads into the garage to find some new batteries.
While in the garage, Darcy discovers magazines that she had been looking for. Hidden amongst them, however, she discovers one of a pornographic nature. Not just a typical X-rated magazine, but one that specifically caters to those into bondage. She also makes another more startling discovery. Hidden in a piece of wall, behind the box, where she found the magazines, is an another small box, that was made for Bob by their daughter, Petra (Kristen Connolly), when she was in elementary school. What is contained within the box repulses her, not because of the item itself, but because of what she knows it could signify. Darcy goes backs inside the house and immediately goes on-line; it doesn’t take her long to come to the realization that Beadie, and her loving husband of over two decades, are one and the same person. I am not giving away any spoilers there. The trailers for the film and the promotional material make that fact known to the viewer before watching the movie.
What makes matters even worse for Darcy, is that soon after she learns the truth about the father of her children, the aforementioned Petra, and their son Donnie (Theo Stockman), Bob arrives home. He lets Darcy know, without any pretense, that he realizes after a trip into the garage and checking the search history on her computer, that she has discovered his secret identity. He assures her that he would never hurt her. Beadie he explains, is a compulsive voice in his head and that he fought it off for many years, before he gave in to what it was asking him to do. The voice was sparked from an incident from his childhood, and a friend of his who died; not, however, before giving Bob some strange ideas on how girls should be treated. He explains to Darcy that nothing positive will come from her revealing his identity to anyone. Her business would be ruined, along with the lives of their children; Petra in particular, who is getting married in the very near future. Bob makes a promise to Darcy that if she refrains from turning him in, he will stop killing.
What will Darcy do? Does she agree not go to the police about Bob, in the hopes that she can live through the night, so the next day she can do just that? Will Darcy take Bob at his word because of how he has treated her and the kids for all their years of marriage? Can she believe that a man with his proclivities can just change his ways? All of those questions will be answered by the film’s conclusion.
The film’s violence is kept to a bare minimum. There is no gore, and no blood, which is fine. I always prefer a good story, to scenes that are just added for shock value. Sadly, however, the film also contains almost no tension. I could understand the anguish Allen’s character is going through in terms of deciding what she should do regarding Bob, however, I felt no emotional investment in her character. The original story by King is excellent. The problem, I feel, is that getting the inner thoughts of characters on screen has to be shown, it can’t be described like in a piece of fictional writing. The director demonstrated to me nothing special with this work. I am not familiar with other material Askin has done, so perhaps this was just a miss for him. I recommend this only to hardcore Stephen King fans, like myself, who need to read or see anything that has his name attached to it.