Mild spoilers ahead for the novel Ten and the movie Ten: Murder Island.
On September 16, Lifetime aired Ten: Murder Island, a movie based on Gretchen McNeil’s 2012 novel Ten that starred China Anne McClain and Rome Flynn as the leads, Meg and T.J. Last year, when I first found out that an adaptation of Ten was being made, I was really excited. Gretchen McNeil’s work is absolutely amazing, and she is without a doubt, one of my favorite authors. Her writing is smart, funny, thrilling, and suspenseful, and her all of her characters (even the ones you can’t help but hate) feel so three-dimensional and real. (And while we’re on the subject of Gretchen McNeil, I strongly recommend her books Get Even, Get Dirty, and 3:59, as well as Ten) Finding out Ten was being made into a movie was amazing. Finding out that the lead character (whom I related to so much) was being played by China Anne McClain just made it so much better.
Today I sat down and watched the movie, and I honestly don’t know how to feel about it.
The movie follows the same premise of the book: ten teens, Meg (McClain), Minnie (Cassidy Gifford), T.J. (Flynn), Gunner (Zak Steiner), Ben (Callan McAuliffe), Lori (Raquel Castro), Kenny (Matt Mercurio), Vivian (Meg Cashel), and Nathan (Dylan Arnold) are invited to a weekend house party by a popular girl in their grade, Jessica Lawrence. When the teens arrive at the Lawrence’s house, a death on the first night clues them in that someone is out to get them, and they realize that Jessica isn’t the one who invited them. Naturally, their first instinct is to get off the island, but the absence of ferries (their only escape) and the lack of cell service makes that impossible. As more deaths and sinister accidents occur, Meg, T.J., and the others frantically search for clues, but as they do, they get closer and closer to a killer.
The book was excellently plotted, amazingly funny, and brilliantly paced. The movie was really good, but in some ways, it didn’t really live up to the greatness of the book.
There were lots of elements that were just as great as the book. Nathan was truly a terrible person (spoiler alert: he’s not the killer, he’s just a womanizing jerk) but Arnold’s performance was spot-on. Castro’s performance as Lori was also a standout, even if Castro didn’t have as much screen time. All of the actors (especially Castro, Arnold, Flynn, Gifford, and McClain) were absolutely perfect for their respective parts, and that I wouldn’t change. The dialogue was great (although at times it was a bit stilted), and the story line, for the most part, stayed true to the book. The effects and the music were perfectly timed, and visually, the film was great.
The elements that didn’t stay true to the book were the ones that stand out the most. A major plot point in the novel is the discovery of a journal, one that the teens assume belongs to the killer. The author of this journal was just a sweet, sad, misunderstood girl, but the writers of the film made her seem vindictive and delusional. I loved the way that her journal entries were shot as flashbacks, but the narration that went with it didn’t match. In the book, you found yourself relating to the girl, as much as you wanted to suspect her as a killer, and in the movie, they made it easy to hate her.
Also, the leads were given more time to develop and the books, and I think it would’ve made each death more emotional (well, for the deaths of the characters that were actually likable) if they’d been given that development time. Meg and Minnie’s friendship, which is the force behind most of Meg’s decisions in the book/movie, was sort of underplayed. Understanding Meg and her motivations is a key part of the book, and I think the movie fell short in that respect.
Additionally, the ending of the movie definitely wasn’t as great as the ending. It packed an emotional punch, sure, but it lacked the intensity of the book’s climax. In the book, the killer goes up in flames (literally) after a vicious fight between Meg and the last remaining teen breaks out. After Meg and the other teen escape, they talk about what happened on the island means for them, and they are rescued by a Coast Guard boat. In the movie, the killer is tackled by one of the remaining teens and then beat to death with a gasoline can. Meg and the last remaining teen have an emotional conversation that fails to include any of the humor from the book. Interesting, yes, but it didn’t last very long. The final fight scene was less than ten minutes long, and I was just like, “All of that time spent over analysing who the killer was and what their motives was, and the killer’s taken down in five minutes? Please.”
Overall, I liked the movie. It was funny and thrilling, much like the book was. At the same time, the elements they excluded/changed from the book made it a lot more cliche. One of the things I enjoy most about McNeil’s writing is that it never feels cliche or unoriginal, and this adaptation feels like a little bit of both at times. Also, the novel is fast-paced but it never feels rushed, and the movie definitely felt a bit rushed at times.
This movie was good, but it could’ve been a lot better. In my opinion, I think it would’ve been better suited as a limited series, or perhaps a longer movie: character development definitely wouldn’t have had to take a back seat, and they could’ve kept the pacing of the original novel.
As much as I anticipated this movie, I’m kind of disappointed about how it turned out. But McNeil has other works that deserve to be made into movies/TV shows. Maybe if those get adapted as well, they’ll live up to the mastery of the originals.