Adventures in Streaming: Thinner

Thinner is the film adaptation of Stephen King’s novel of the same name. It tells the story of an extremely overweight man – Billy – who accidentally hits and kills an old woman with his car after not paying enough attention to the road. Because the man is well-known and well-liked by people in law-enforcement and the judicial system, he’s given a slap on the wrist for causing the woman’s death, an unfairness that upsets the woman’s (shockingly old) father.

Unfortunately for Billy, the old woman’s upset father is the head of a gypsy clan, and he places curses on Billy and on both the judge and the police officer who helped Billy avoid punishment. The judge begins to mutate into some sort of lizard creature, the police officer becomes a hideous mass of painful skin lesions, and Billy begins to get thinner. At first he’s thrilled, because he had the weight to lose, but he soon realizes that it’s never going to stop, and he starts looking for the old man to have him reverse the curse.

The movie is a strong adaptation, following the book faithfully and capturing the subplots and interpersonal exchanges very well. In addition, the special effects – noted quite positively at the time – still stand up: Billy’s overweight and eventual emaciation are both completely believable, and the make-up they put on Michael Constantine (who plays the head of the clan) is flawless – you pretty much forget he was ever a young man. The acting is solid, and even though Billy is not a squeaky-clean protagonist, he’s a good father, and we can easily find sympathy for his plight and balance his flaws against his deeper, basically decent character.

The only problem – and it’s not really a problem per se – is that Joe Mantegna plays a truly bad guy, a guy who’s helping Billy find the gypsy patriarch by sending some not-so-subtle messages to the other members of the clan. Mantegna is an excellent actor, and when he plays a bad guy, he really does seem like a bad guy. But through no fault of his own, at a couple of critical bad-guy moments, I could only hear his Simpsons’ Fat Tony character, which made me laugh instead of being intimidated by his bad-guy-ness. But then again, having that shift toward laughter and then watching him be pretty brutal and ruthless maybe made those darker images seem even more striking.

The change in tactics on the part of the gypsy patriarch is plausible, and the ending is satisfying with no particular unanswered questions. It’s a horror ending rather than a happily-ever-after, so if you’re looking for a feel-good film, this isn’t it. But if you’re looking for a tight story arc, strong character development, and fairly realistic actions toward a rewarding conclusion, then definitely give Thinner a try.

10 out of 10