Ben Affleck in Gone Girl.

David Fincher apparently set out to create the nastiest movie ever about marriages gone bad with Gone Girl.

I think he has succeeded.

Fincher and Gillian Flynn (writer of both the novel and screenplay) come up with a toxic cocktail laced with dark humor, scabrous satire and blistering performances. Anybody who has suffered through a bad relationship, or doubts aspects of the relationship in which they are now, will feel the power of Gone Girl.

On the day of his fifth anniversary, Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) returns home after sulking at the bar he owns with his sister (a funny Carrie Coon). There’s a problem: His wife, Amy (Rosamund Pike), is missing. Nick calls the police and the in-laws, and quickly finds himself sucked into in a media circus that leaves him dazed and confused. His demeanor in public is a strange combination of a malaise and ill-timed smiles. Yeah … he’s a suspect.

Through a series of narrated flashbacks, we hear the story of the Dunne marriage from Amy’s perspective, as chronicled in her diary. Everything started sweet enough, with the two of them being impossibly perfect for each other. However, family deaths, money troubles and lapses in moral judgment leave them stricken with loathing and regret by the time the “wood” anniversary arrives.

Nick is skewered on TV by a Nancy Grace-type “journalist” (a snooty Missi Pyle), and the detectives investigating his case (the deadpan Kim Dickens and Patrick Fugit) have little faith in his innocence. The evidence against Nick becomes quite daunting as it piles up. The whole thing plays a lot like the Scott Peterson case, involving a husband who killed his pregnant wife and dumped her body in San Francisco Bay 12 years ago.

Then, at about the halfway point, the movie goes completely and wonderfully insane. I recommend that you accept what happens—even though it’s totally nuts—and enjoy the rest of this messed-up ride. Gone Girl becomes a nightmarish fantasy, a hyper-sensationalized “what-if” that thrives on its implausibility. Had this movie tried to stick closer to reality, it would’ve killed too much of the fun.

Pike, a British actress perhaps known best for Jack Reacher, gets the role of a lifetime with Amy—and she devours it. We see many faces of Amy, some of them pure, with others as monstrous as Godzilla. What we see early in Amy’s story doesn’t prepare us for what comes later.

There’s nobody better cast than Affleck as Nick. Affleck has often been the victim of unjust tabloid garbage and Internet slagging, so when Nick is required to show media fatigue, Affleck needs only to pull from his personal Battfleck or Bennifer experiences to hit the right notes. He also has an eerie resemblance to Scott Peterson, which helps. Most of all, he shows what has been true throughout his career: He’s a fine actor capable of great nuance.

With this effort, Fincher erases the waste of time that was his adaptation of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, and gets back to the business of being one of the world’s finest directors. As he did with Fight Club, Fincher gets to the heart of the novel with which he’s working, and does the book more than justice. He makes a great-looking movie, and the score, by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, will amaze.

Gone Girl will make many of us laugh (especially the single and divorced folks), force some of us to cringe, and cause nightmares for those unsteady couples with rings on their fingers.

Gone Girl is playing at theaters across the valley.