Film Review: Thinner (1996)

What happens when a bizarre little novel with very loose logic gets adapted into a feature length film? Thinner happens. Originally written under the Richard Bachman pseudonym, Stephen King's Thinner is a strange story of gypsy revenge. A fat lawyer accidentally runs over a gypsy woman while his wife distracts him in the car. Instead of facing any punishment, his connection to a police officer and a judge gets him off free. The gypsy's ancient father curses all three to ironic fates, including the titular rapid weight loss of the protagonist. It's a gimmick that would have worked better for a novella than a full-length novel, but King has never been one to hold himself back in kooky details.

The film, adapted for the screen by Michael McDowell (Beetlejuice) and Tom Holland (Fright Night), refocuses the story entirely on the lawyer's paranoia. It's not enough that he is facing a gypsy's powerful curse and no one believes him. He's now convinced that the doctor his wife brings him to at an eating clinic is sleeping with his wife. Instead of focusing on character development, the film constantly jumps to outside action and shock scenes that do nothing for the story.

ThinnerThe big problem with Thinner is the look of the film. It comes across as very cheap. The makeup prosthetics on actor Robert John Burke--first to make him appear fat, then to make him look emaciated--look like plastic. They're too shiny and inflexible to be real flesh and serve as a constant distraction. They also weigh so heavily on his face that he struggles to show any emotion at all.

It's not even worth going into how poor the other effects are. If your main character is unbelievable, then the film is going to fail. Thinner puts all of its focus on the external effects of the lawyer's plight but the lawyer feels fake. You can't connect with him at all. Films that require believable makeup effects to sell the story do not work with plastic human-like creations populating the screen.

The poor makeup is such a distraction that you barely notice what the film does well. Director Tom Holland does manage to wring out some tense and even tragic moments from the story. One scene in particular stands out. After abandoning the doctor's facility, the lawyer visits the home of the judge to see if he's facing any problems. Only the judge's wife is home. She's pleasant at first until she realizes his real motive for visiting. She's furious that the man who killed the gypsy woman is only losing weight while her own husband transforms into a literal monster. It's the scene that lets you know that the film cannot have a happy ending. The lawyer will always be a self-centered and highly manipulative character with no empathy for anyone.

If this aspect of the story was the focus--not the effects, not the gypsies, not the constant flow of blood and escalating violence--Thinner would be an excellent film. The ending of the film hits a tragic tone not unlike ancient Greek dramas. Grounded in a more realistic context with a focus on character, it would have been an effective melodrama about status and privilege in society.

Unfortunately, that's not what this is. Thinner is only a gross-out horror picture with a few tense moments and a poor look to it. You watch it as a curiosity and promptly forget all but the most absurd imagery. No wonder it's a late-night cable TV mainstay.

Rating: 3/10

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