I CARE A LOT (15, 118 mins) Thriller/Romance. Rosamund Pike, Peter Dinklage, Eiza Gonzalez, Chris Messina, Dianne Wiest, Isiah Whitlock Jr, Macon Blair, Alicia Witt, Damian Young. Director: J Blakeson.

Released: February 19 (streaming exclusively on Amazon Prime Video)

Gone Girl goes bad, despicably bad, in J Blakeson’s lip-smacking thriller of unremitting cruelty and greed.

Anchored by an incendiary lead performance from Rosamund Pike as a self-anointed “lioness” in a cut-throat world of apex predators, I Care A Lot is a chilling portrait of profit-driven villainy, which conceals a distorted Machiavellian grin behind the pristine public facade of a guardian angel in designer threads.

“There’s no such thing as good people,” professes Pike’s morally corrupt anti-heroine in a prosaic voiceover monologue set to Death In Vegas’ haunting Dirge.

That’s unquestionably true of the rogue’s gallery of misfits, opportunists and thugs who swarm in Blakeson’s lean and gleefully mean-spirited script.

Everyone is working an angle, some more successfully and ruthlessly than others, and when the end credits roll on a disconcertingly loopy and hare-brained second act, it’s a satisfyingly messy final hurrah that refuses to pander to crowd-pleasing sentimentality.

The American Dream – to be rich, successful and in control – is warped into a living nightmare, which can legally remove elderly citizens from their homes and seize control of their assets.

Marla Grayson (Pike) is the founder and CEO of Grayson Guardianships who repeatedly petitions judges to grant her custody of frail, vulnerable people to prevent them from becoming a burden in their twilight years.

Testimony from Dr Karen Amos (Alicia Witt) confirms the early signs of dementia and seals each prospective ward’s fate.

In truth, Marla is a sharp-suited con artist who makes her money by selling off her victims’ homes once they are heavily sedated at expensive living facilities and unable to defend themselves.

Marla unknowingly goes from hunter to prey when she turns up at the front door of Jennifer Peterson (Dianne Wiest) brandishing a court order.

As the elderly homeowner becomes another cash cow for Marla and partner Fran (Eiza Gonzalez) to milk dry, lawyer Dean Ericson (Chris Messina) arrives unannounced at the Grayson office with a stern warning.

Ms Peterson has powerful friends. If Marla continues to hold Jennifer against her will, there will be consequences.

“You’re in trouble now,” cackles Jennifer in a heavily medicated haze as her protector (Peter Dinklage) initiates a campaign of terror against the co-conspirators.

I Care A Lot conceals more than one satisfying sting in the tail as Marla fights for survival.

Pike’s deliciously vile ice queen deep-freezes every frame and she’s matched by a colourful supporting turn from Dinklage as a hot head, who communicates most effectively with bullets and bruised knuckles.

A tautly paced opening hour loses dramatic momentum as Harrogate-born writer-director Blakeson’s picture becomes almost as unhinged as its diabolical central character.

However, there is sufficient acid-laced method beneath the escalating madness to sustain a chokehold on our attention.

Everybody hurts. Deal with it.