Last Friday after I posted about how Kerri Rawson, who found out her dad was a notorious serial killer, had chewed Stephen King out for writing a novella and a screenplay based loosely on her family, I looked the movie up on Netflix and watched it. I’d ignored it before because it only had 3 out of 5 stars, and I rarely waste my time for anything that’s earned under 4 stars on Netflix. The movie is titled The Good Family, because the story is about one of those dull, yet perfect, middle-class, suburban families. They’re dull, that is, until the wife finds out her husband is a serial killer who has raped and murdered 12 women. Then he, at least, seems a bit more interesting.
About 20 minutes into the movie it started to feel familiar, although I knew I’d never seen it. I realized I’d read the novella a couple of years ago, and I remembered the story. As often happens, King’s story was better in writing than it was on the screen. The wife’s character was flat, too sweet and nice, bland. Although we’re seeing a lot of the action through her point of view, we’re not in her head like the reader is in the novella. The explanation the husband gives for why he has this second bad person living in him who makes him do horrible things to women doesn’t ring true in the movie, although it did in the book. He simply has no clear motivation for his heinous crimes, and until she finds the evidence that he’s the killer, he’s given no indication that he’s a vicious sociopath. None. Zero. These people collect coins for fun. That’s how they spend their Saturday nights. Surely the guy must have kicked a puppy or made a rude comment about a woman in a short skirt or done something to indicate he wasn’t simply a boring family man.
So I finished watching it, and I gave it 2 stars. I may have been generous because of Stephen King’s name on it. It reminded me of something I’ve often thought about King’s books. He’s a fantastic writer. A master at the craft. I’m not a fan of horror, but I read him because his skills amaze me. I want to learn from him. But the fact is, his stories — the underlying concept, which we’ve talked about — aren’t very good. If you stripped them of his writing skills, they wouldn’t sell. And his endings are collectively some of the worst I’ve ever read.
And yet I continue to read his books, because he knows how to write tension like nobody else. And his characters are well fleshed out, interesting, unique. They just don’t tend to stand up in his screenplays.
It’s something to know, as a writer. Your story doesn’t have to be that great if you’re a great story-teller, and you’ve honed your skills through hours and hours of writing and revisions, and you’ve learned a lot about people so you can build full-blooded characters.
Even if you like horror, I don’t recommend this movie. The only thing that’s horrible is the movie itself.