If there’s a feeling you’re left with after watching David Fincher’s secret 8-minute preview reel for The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, that’s it.

Perhaps it’s a symptom of a malnourishing movie summer, but there is palpable hunger for Dec. 21 to arrive and deliver this thriller to the cineplex. So, naturally, when word leaked out that this special, unrated showcase of TGWTDT would be presented before a handful of screenings of Straw Dogs last night, people queued up like it was a Depression Era bread line.

Unfortunately for Straw Dogs, which opens Friday, this clip will not be presented during its regular showings. A tamer “all audiences” preview will show before Moneyball, but it will certainly lack some of the more disturbing imagery presented in this one. Supposedly, this unrated sequence will not be released online, but… who believes that?

Here’s what it shows…

For once, a trailer gives away a lot — and it’s a good thing. We get almost the entire set-up for the story, but it’s a wise move. For those unfamiliar with the novel, it fast-tracks what I would consider the extraordinarily boring first half of Stieg Larsson’s novel, and pulls away from the specifics at just the moment when the surprises and action in the novel take off.

That’s not to say that there isn’t good drama in the set-up. It’s just important for the film to not get bogged down the way the novel did, and this trailer nimbly hits the powerful moments before propelling us into the twisted serial-killing case Mikael Blomkvist (a stoic Daniel Craig) and Lisbeth Salander (an utterly alien Rooney Mara) manage to uncover.

It begins as the novel does, with aging industrialist Henrik Vanger receiving another pressed flower, and calling to tell the frail police inspector (Donald Sumpter) who is long past surprise. Fincher’s style is still and icy (suitable, given the wintry setting), but also elegant and beautiful. Comparisons are being made to Se7en, but I’d say this is Fincher at his most Kubrickian, more akin to the eerie detachment of The Shining than that earlier serial killer saga.

Even some of the interiors are surprisingly warm — even cozy. Fincher knows he can’t keep the audience fully at arm’s length. Like the journalist Blomkvist, feeling outcast and ashamed after his humiliating libel loss in the courts, we need to feel welcomed somewhere. And the truly isolated Salander needs to have places she simply doesn’t fit in. Of course, whether that warmth can ever be trusted is another matter — one she is more suited to discerning than he is.

We see the famed rape scene in brief — and it cuts away as soon as things get explicit. Lisbeth brawls with a thief over her laptop, loses it, and must go to her cruel social worker for access to her savings to buy another. He sits on the desk before her, asks what she will do for him, and proceeds to force her to perform oral sex. It’s another testament to Fincher that he creates an atmosphere of total discomfort in a setting that is utterly banal. You can practically hear the buzzing of the fluorescent bulbs in this nondescript office. Of course, fans of the books know that evil is always masked in seemingly plain and unthreatening places.

As I mentioned, most of the trailer is devoted to this set-up. Blomkvist meets with Vanger and takes on the job of writing his biography while actually trying to solve the long-ago disappearance of his niece. Vanger say he actually wants to expose a group of thieves, misers, bullies, and incompetents: “My family.”

This, of course, leads Blomkvist to Salander, who can take some of the clues he has uncovered and track how they factor into the disappearance of young Harriet Vanger. Blomkvist presents some documents to Salander (while her girlfriend sits uncomfortably in her bed) and the gothic princess hacker agrees to help him. He asks if she’d like to study the documents, but she already has her back to him. Pointing at her temple with a “duh” expression, she goes, “I’ve got it.”

At this point in the preview, Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’s score — thrumming quietly in the background throughout the set-up — moves to the fore as we get a rapid fire succession of images (some gruesomely violent, and likely to be absent in any “all audiences” trailer). We see the film’s tagline: EVIL SHALL WITH EVIL BE EXPELLED, and the pulse of the music builds to an immense and devastating ending.

Devastating not because it reveals the finale, but because it leaves you craving more.

December feels like a long way off.

On Twitter: @Breznican

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The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (Book)
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