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A strangely tame adaptation of a gruesome novel, “Bestseller” is an indie offering more akin to a Lifetime drama than a true thriller.

Suffering from severe imbalances in both tone and performance, Bestseller probably should NOT have been adapted from the source material; this is the kind of story that would work better on the page than on screen.

Released in May of 2022, Bestseller is directed by Chrissy Rohn in what appears to be her feature film debut and stars Melissa Anschutz and DJ Perry. It is based on the novel of the same name, which was written by Christopher Knight and published in 2001.

The IMDb synopsis goes a little something like this:

Chicago literary agent Anne Harper vacations to a remote cabin in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. While there, a disgruntled writer is waiting to seek his revenge.

On paper, this sounds rife with possibility.

And Bestseller was probably a pretty decent read as a novel. Alas, not every book can be adequately stripped down to an hour-and-a-half movie. So much context gets lost. Character motivations suffer, and certain scenes don’t get the requisite time to percolate. The final product suffers as a result.

Commit…commit…commit, DAMMIT!

That was the mantra in my head as Bestseller unfurled before my eyes.

I kept wanting it to take things just a little further, to crest that ridge, and really go for broke with the darker aspects.

Unfortunately, a tease it remained all the way through the credits.

That’s not to say this is an awful movie; it’s not (It’s more meh than anything). I just find it hard to ignore how much better it would have been if it had cut loose. Then again, while researching the production company, I realized why it went the cautious path (more on this later).

The initial cold open, where an unknown assailant murders an author in her home, promises a much better movie. Sure, it’s formulaic, but tropes aren’t inherently a bad thing. Quite the opposite, in fact. Straying too far from the established tropes in horror and thriller movies can be disastrous.

But, once the story properly unfolds, Bestseller goes off the rails.

One of the conceits of the story is that Anne’s young daughter is suffering from some malady (maybe some kind of cancer, but the movie never elaborates). Much effort is made to show how much Anne loves being a mother and how invested she is with her child. Nevertheless, Anne still decides to go on vacation right when her daughter needs more medical tests.

The guy loaning Anne the cabin even suggests rescheduling.

So, as a devoted mother, does Anne cancel her vacation and accompany her clearly worried daughter to said tests? Haha…NOOOOOOOPE. She basically leaves that hospital visit up to a live-in nanny. Like, “Sucks to be you, kid. Whelp, I’m off!”

I’m sure that, in the book, that whole scenario was handled more effectively. And with a certain degree of believability. But, being a parent myself, based upon that one decision alone, I immediately disliked Anne as a character.

From that point on, it was basically impossible to be invested in the fate of a character whom I actively disliked.

Which is a shame. Melissa Anschutz is quite a capable actress with tremendous range, and there are times when it seems like she’s in a completely different movie. She certainly deserved to be in a better one.

Needless to say, I found myself in a strange place; reconciling the disconnect between her amazing performance and her irredeemable character proved difficult.

The only other main character with any real screen time is DJ Perry’s Mark Franklin, one of the writers that Anne represents. I don’t want to go much into his character for fear of spoilers, but when up against Melissa Anschutz, it’s evident that acting is not his forte.

And…it’s at this point in the review that I need to address a few problematic factors.

First, aside from acting in the movie, DJ Perry is also the CEO of Collective Development, the production company that released Bestseller. Here’s the strange thing; Collective Development seems geared more toward religious and family-friendly films. I could be wrong…but scrolling through their list of releases certainly supports the theory.

On the flip side, Bestseller the novel apparently features graphic depictions of torture and nudity, which makes it a very strange choice for an adaptation by this particular outfit. That said, it does help answer why the movie itself seemed so…tame.

Now, I’m not saying that horror/thriller movies need to revel in blood and boobs and beheadings to be good. But taking a novel with some of those elements at the forefront and stripping them away seems almost criminal. It would be like taking Jaws and removing all of the gruesome shark attack scenes; it simply wouldn’t work.

Second, the movie’s tone is literally all over the place.

The score over the opening credits is superb, immediately evoking tension and questions.

Meanwhile, later on, after the audience learns the fate of one of Anne’s friends (she remains in the dark), the music is very soothing and introspective, like the background tunes at a day spa. These scenes are back-to-back, and the shift is incredibly jarring.

Many other scenes are just as (or more so) disjointed as well. Tension will be built, only to be immediately squandered by a few following segments that seem lifted straight from a made-for-TV special.

Third, Anne discovers irregularity after irregularity while staying at the cabin and yet consistently convinces herself that everything is fine. It’s one thing when horndog teenagers ignore the blatantly obvious, but quite another entirely when it’s a smart and successful adult.

And then there’s the whole, you know, sick kid thing. By the end, I was totally fine if she didn’t make it out alive. Harsh but true.

Fourth, the villain spends so much time monologuing near the end that I very nearly turned the movie off (which is a no-no when reviewing). Seriously, it’s like everyone thought that the best way to make him menacing was just to have him yell for like fifteen minutes straight. Which, naturally, produces the opposite effect.

In the interest of not completely bashing this film, I will stop here.

As I said, it’s not terrible. And the ending…well, I actually liked it. But one final scene cannot make up for everything that came before.

For folks who are not fans of the gore and sexuality prevalent in most adult thrillers, Bestseller will probably fit the bill. For everyone else, including fans of the novel, I would say that this is one adaptation best left avoided.

Overall Rating (Out of 5 Butterflies): 2
Bestseller is free on Tubi, free on The Roku Channel, and available for rent or purchase on Prime Video.

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