As I’ve no doubt mentioned before, when a filmmaker attempts to wrestle Stephen King’s books into a filmable format, there’s still always that fact that the author still writes things that are somewhat challenging to translate to the screen. Be it the numerous bizarre concepts of Dreamcatcher to the titular Langoliers, some things simply don’t translate particularly well – but what do you do when the entire book is weirder than all get out? Well, apparently if you’re Tom Holland (director of Fright Night and Child’s Play – not the constantly worried looking Spider-Man actor), you grab the weird with both hands and refuse to let your death grip go until the end credits roll. But what makes Thinner tougher to realise than your average King concept is that it was written during his Richard Bachman phase and believe you me, Bachman deliberately lacked the warmth of characters that King had to create unlikeable characters stuck in awful circumstances.
With the pun utterly intended, this one night be a little tough to swallow…
Corpulant, upperclass lawyer Billy Halleck has it all, a beautiful wife, a doting daughter and he’s good at his job – so good in fact he’s recently got mob boss Richie Ginelli acquitted on a murder charge. Celebrating his win by doing what he does in practically every situation – overeating – his wife Hedi attempts to get his mind of foodstuff by going down on him while he drives the car, an act that ultimately blows in every sence of the word. Distracted by Heidi’s mouthplay, Billy plows through the elderly body of a romani woman, killing her instantly, but due to a cover up from the chief of police and the town Judge, the bloody matter is quickly and quietly swept under the rug. Case closed, apparently.
Not so, because the old woman is the daughter of 109 year-old gypsy king Tadzu Lempke and the enraged old man proceeds to place a slow acting curse on the men responsible for this cover up by touching them and uttering a single word. With Billy, the word is “thinner” and so every day the lawyer sheds a little more of that 300 pounds he’s carrying much to his initial delight, but soon he realises his weight loss simply isn’t going to stop and if he doesn’t find some way to reverse the curse, he’s going to expire weighing no more than your average scarecrow. As the Judge and the Police Chief succumb to their own curses (scales and boils respectively), Billy goes to war with the Lempke family by hiring Ginelli to work some of particularly brutal magic of his own on them in the form of terror tactics and murder.
But even if Billy can get his ailment fixed and return to the life he once knew, there’s still the matter of Heidi’s questionable fidelity to be taken into account…
Simply put, Thinner is a fucking mess, with the scrappy novel producing an equally off-beat thriller with sizable supernatural overtones, but instead of trying to grind down the movie’s rougher edges, Holland instead attempts to counteract that by leaning wildly into it, allowing his actors and plot to – pardon the pun – go large at will. The results are, putting it lightly, fucking weird, but then Thinner was always a weird book to begin with that broches the subject of privileged white people finally having to accept responsibility for their shitty ways thanks to the whims of a gypsy spell. Even for King, that’s a fairly wild concept and Holland is content to stuff it under his arm and wildly bolt for the end zone and after returning to it after many years of initially dismissing it, I have to say, while the movie fails at being scary, thoughtful, or even remotely sensible – it certainly isn’t boring and for better or worse, it’s quite unlike any other King adaptation you’ve ever seen.
As if to meet the heightened sence of reality head-on, all the performances are somewhat tweaked ever so slightly as if to be noticably far fetched, starting with one-time former Robocop Robert John Burke gurning from either beneath the latex jowls of a Greg Cannom fat suit or the hollowed cheek bones of the latter stages of his own, personal body horror. As madness begins to take hold when the enormity of what’s transpiring finally hits him, Burke launches into grandstanding tirades, usually through mouthfuls of food, bellowing phrases like “You know as much about justice as I do about turbine engines!” as he tries to place a curse of his own on Lempke’s people. That curse, of course, being Joe Mantegna’s goateed mob guy and the actor is obviously having tremendous fun swallowing up the set quicker than Halleck can down calories as he tackles every scene with his Fat Tony voice from The Simpsons in full effect.
With the whole tone of the film feeling as exaggerated, camp and comic booky as an episode of Tales From The Crypt, you feel like the filmmakers are frantically trying to satirize something, but it’s tough to pin down exactly what it is when pretty much everyone in the the movie is a worthless human being in some form or another. In fact the ending – that’s far less enigmatic than the book’s – doubles down on this aspect so hard you openly wonder why you even bothered watching the film in the first place as the movie launches itself off the tracks that were fairly rickety to begin with.
However, it’s plain to see Tom Holland is relishing playing in a sandbox that has absolutely no morals whatsoever and if you’re willing to not take Thinner particularly seriously it’s actually quite, spiteful fun as not a single character involved – not Burke’s pampered lawyer, not Kari Wuhrer’s catapult wielding gypsy psycho and certainly not Mantegna’s loopy mob bastard – learns a single thing from this whole debacle.
Reviews at the time condemned Thinner for being a genuinely strange movie obsessed with the escalating feuds of two groups of unsympathetic pieces of shit, and yet if treated as a wild, amoral black comedy, Thinner – like the emaciated form of its lead if the curse gets lifted – oddly starts to grow on you…