Trailer Face-Off: White Bird in a Blizzard vs. Gone Girl

Published July 17, 2014

Welcome to Thursday Trailer Face-Off, a feature in which we cast a critical eye on two similar upcoming film releases, pitting them against each other across a variety of categories to determine which is most deserving of your two hours. This week: White Bird in a Blizzard vs. Gone Girl, two dramas about disappearances—and potential uxoricide.

The PremiseKat Connor (Shailene Woodley) leads a mundane suburban life. Her beautiful, enigmatic mother Eve (Eva Green) seems the ideal homemaker, preparing dinner for the family and keeping house. Until she vanishes. White Bird in a Blizzard takes off from Eve’s disappearance, tracking Kat and her father Brock’s (Christopher Meloni) attempts to hold the family together in her wake. Kat, full of nascent adult sexuality, juggles a tepid relationship with high school boyfriend Phil (Shiloh Fernandez) and a heated affair with the detective assigned to her mother’s case (Thomas Jane). But the gap left by Eve’s absence takes its toll on the family in unexpected ways as the search for answers continues.

Unsurprisingly, a disappearance is also the focus of David Fincher‘s Gone Girl. Nick and Amy Dunne (Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike)’s marriage is floundering. Nick loses his job, forcing them to relocate from their beloved New York City to Nick’s small Missouri hometown to start anew. But Amy becomes more and more miserable as the tale progresses, until, on the couple’s fifth anniversary, she vanishes. Like White Bird in a Blizzard, Gone Girl is—for the most part—a story told by the survivors. Much of the intrigue focuses Nick and the public circus that surrounds the investigation into Amy’s disappearance. Amy does, however, have her voice, in the form of the diary she keeps rigorously throughout their marriage. As each side of the narrative reveals more inconsistencies, it becomes apparent that there may be more to Amy’s disappearance than meets the eye. In both films, an 11th-hour twist brings the action to a close, but White Bird in a Blizzard risks losing the plot in the midst of its angsty character portrait.Advantage: Gone Girl

Book AdaptationsWhite Bird in a Blizzard is based on the novel of the same name by Laura Kasischke, but adapted by Gregg Araki, who’s also the film’s director. The book itself is loosely based on the actual disappearance of a Midwestern housewife in the ’80s, but Araki takes the more straightforward mystery of the novel and molds it into a character study of a young girl breaking away from her mother to become a woman. Gone Girl was originally written by Gillian Flynn, who also adapted the screenplay. While the author might be the best suited to adapt a novel for familiarity’s sake, the result lacks the fresh insight that Araki brings to Kasischke’s original text. Flynn has promised a new organization to the narrative that might throw off readers familiar with the back-and-forth change in perspective between Nick and Amy in the original text, but it’s still the same story.Advantage: White Bird in a Blizzard

Leading LadiesShailene Woodley has promised that Hazel in The Fault in Our Stars would be her last role playing a teenager. (Divergent trilogy aside, of course, which is set for completion in 2016.) But we’re lucky White Bird in a Blizzard came before the John Green adaptation, because Woodley makes a compelling adolescent. She navigates the rough waters of high school with an exaggerated but compelling image of teen sexuality, and her narration overlaid on the action gives additional insight into her character’s psyche. Rosamund Pike, Gone Girl’s antiheroine Amy, certainly has a history of playing the leading lady. She made her start as a Bond girl in Die Another Day and has since starred as Andromeda in Wrath of the Titans. Like Woodley, Pike adds disembodied narration to the story in Gone Girl, but instead of increasing the psychological depth, Gone Girl‘s narration reaffirms its character’s instability and unreliability. Both are valuable implements in advancing the plot, but Woodley’s character has more potential for audience engagement.Advantage: White Bird in a Blizzard

DirectionGregg Araki is perhaps best-known for his groundbreaking work in queer cinema—he was awarded the Cannes Film Festival’s first Queer Palm award. His films bear a distinct campy, hyper-real aesthetic that, if preliminary reviews hold true, he also brings to White Bird in a Blizzard. Araki is recognizable among the film cognoscenti, but his name isn’t a marked attraction for a wider audience. Fronting Gone Girl is David Fincher (The Social Network, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Fight Club)—he’s certainly got the requisite experience in book adaptations, and the hit-making name, to turn Gone Girl into a film phenomenon worthy of its literary counterpart. So while White Bird in a Blizzard might hold the advantage for adaptation, there’s a fine line to be drawn between fresh perspective and original text, and we feel Fincher is best suited to make that distinction in his role at the helm of Gone Girl.Advantage: Gone Girl

ScoreThe music against which a movie is set can make or break any film. David Fincher has tapped previous collaborators Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross (The Social Network, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) to score Gone Girl. But the first trailer is eerily set against Elvis Costello’s “She,” contrasting harrowing images of the search for a missing woman with uplifting lyrics of love and devotion. The second trailer, just released this month, is set against a wordless track by Reznor and Ross that demonstrates how much music contributes to the ambiance by turning a similar montage of moments from the film into a thrilling unfolding of events. For White Bird in a Blizzard, Araki chose his own longtime collaborator Robin Guthrie of the Cocteau Twins to score (Guthrie also worked on Mysterious Skin and Kaboom). The trailer’s haunting repeated piano motif alludes to good things to come, but another clip featuring Depeche Mode seems predictable for an indie-credible coming-of-age film. Advantage: Gone Girl

The VerdictTo be totally fair, pitting Gone Girl, which is sure to be an autumn film titan, against the niche White Bird in a Blizzard might be unfair. But it’s cued up to be one of those rare movies that combines artfulness with the excitement of a thriller, just like its novel counterpart, and for that, we’ll be first in line when tickets go on sale.Winner: Gone Girl

Trailer Face-Off runs every Thursday. For more, click here.