Like many of the adaptations of the horror master’s work, A Good Marriage, adapted by Stephen King from his novella and directed by Peter Askin, suffers from transition pains. Big ones. The films based on his work rarely manage to capture the sense of suburban dread his writing manages to invoke so effectively. Even when he writes the damn screenplay himself, the films hardly ever instill the same feelings that reading the stories can give you (I’d say Pet Sematary is the most successful). A Good Marriage is not only the worst adaptation of King’s work, it’s easily one of the dullest.
King was inspired to write A Good Marriage (which appears in the 2010 collection “Full Dark, No Stars”) by the BTK Killer, Dennis Radner. This seemingly normal guy was a pillar of the community and was happily married to his wife for nearly 30 years when it was revealed he was a brutal serial killer. How could she not know? Almost three decades, 10 victims, and his wife had no clue? Makes for one helluva jumping off point for a King story.
After an engaging and eerily shot opening sequence, A Good Marriage starts rolling out the cliches and long stretches of tedium. Anthony LaPaglia and Joan Allen star as Bob and Darcy, the two halves of the titular marriage. Bob is a successful accountant while Darcy manages their coin collecting and trading business from home. They live a peaceful existence in a quaint New England town (of course), but the area is soon rocked when a serial killer dubbed “Beadie” murders his 12th female victim.
Beadie’s M.O. is similar to the BTK’s. He brutally tortures the women before killing them. Afterwards, he mails their identification to the police with a note. Bob leaves for a business trip and as she’s cleaning, Darcy discovers a hidden stash of evidence damning her virtuous husband. Knowing that he’s the savage Beadie killer, Darcy’s mental stability begins to break down as she wonders how she could possibly confront him. Even scarier to think about, how can she protect their three children from dear old Bob?
This all sounds like a solid premise for a vicious psychological combat between Darcy and Bob. Instead, A Good Marriage loses steam shockingly fast and badly meanders to the point where I nearly lost interest in the film entirely. It repeatedly covers the same ground, spinning its wheels as it resets the tension every time King and Askin manage to build a hint of it up. The look of the film doesn’t help either. It resembles a Lifetime movie and Darcy and Bob’s house (where most of the film is shot) comes off painfully like a set. Thematically, it only flirts with the cold-bloodedness initially suggested.
As Bob, LaPaglia brings a nice duality to his performance. He’s sweet and husbandly when it’s called for and callous when Beadie comes out. Allen, on the other hand, coldly plays Darcy. While she’s supposed to be going through this powerful dilemma, she gives us no believable emotion to latch on to. She doesn’t seem too terribly determined to capture our sympathies.
A Good Marriage works far better on the page and maybe would’ve been more successful as a short film. It’s a horribly flat film and I don’t think I’ve ever seen a King adaptation so boring and deflated of thrills. There’s an attempt at a twist deep into the film, but by then it’s too little and WAY too late. This one’s a total bummer.