Stephen King's Bag of Bones DVD Review
Directed by Mick Garris
Written by Matt Venne, Stephen King (novel)
2011, Region 2 (PAL), 157 minutes, Rated 15 (UK)
DVD released on 19th Aug 2013
Pierce Brosnan as Mike Noonan
Melissa George as Mattie
Annabeth Gish as Jo Noonan
Anika Noni Rose as Sara Tidwell
Matt Frewer as Sid Noonan
Jason Priestley as Marty
Stop me if you've heard this one before: a troubled writer, suffering from alcohol problems and writer's block withdraws to his family retreat in Maine. In this sleepy American town, he uncovers deep-set conspiracy and a severe case of supernatural evil. Bag of Bones, based on the 1998 Stephen King novel of the same name, is the archetypal King story.
Most of King's recent (and not so recent) tics and habits are present and accounted for, from the writer protagonist through to the Maine setting and evidence of psychic subterfuge. When bestselling novelist Mike Noonan's wife dies in a tragic road accident, Mike returns to his old summer house on Dark Score Lake, Maine. It doesn't take him long to realise that the place might be haunted by at least one ghost, and that there's a dark secret in town that the shady locals would rather he didn't uncover. It's not all bad, though – he's quick to make friends with a local widow and her young daughter, both of whom may be connected to the town's big secret. Also, widowed Mattie is played by Melissa George, and that is never a bad thing.
Bag of Bones' other casting coup is getting Pierce Brosnan in to play Noonan. Brosnan doesn't have the greatest range (no Bond actor really does) and I can't buy him as a novelist, but he is a solid choice. He also delivers a surprisingly decent performance, doing a good job of showing Noonan's obvious grief and confusion. He has a tendency to lumber about a bit, and his crying face is ridiculous, but he does a great job otherwise. Easily as good as Johnny Depp in Secret Window, or anyone in IT who isn't Tim Curry. It even manages a child actor who isn't at all despicable in the cute Caitlin Carmichael as little Kyra Devore – high praise indeed, as there's nothing more guaranteed to make me dislike a horror film than the prominent presence of a young child. Annabeth Gish haunts proceedings from the side-lines, watching as her husband grieves, investigates her possible affair, and starts laying down some moves on Melissa George. It's as sweet and sad as it is spooky, with those flawed but likeable (and very familiar) characters King writes so well. At two hours, it's a little on the long side, but it never seems to drag.
There's more amiss in the second half, where the story deviates somewhat from the book, and some dodgier CGI effects come into play. There's also a moment – perhaps the film's most important moment – spoiled by bad direction, acting and the constraints of a television production. Having never read the novel (it's one of the few King books I've missed) I can't say whether the changes are for better or worse, but I doubt King had envisioned those scenes of unintentional hilarity as Pierce Brosnan falls out of an attic and is beaten around the face by an angry tree, like some classy English/Irish Bruce Campbell.
At a time when television horror is going from strength to strength, Bag of Bones does feel somewhat antiquated and predictable. At least it's better than the recent James Herbert adaptation The Secret of Crickley Hall or currently airing King series Under the Dome, though, and hey, old-fashioned isn't always a bad thing. Like the small American towns of King’s books, it's cosy and oddly comforting. That doesn't sound like high praise, but I genuinely enjoyed Bag of Bones. It's creepy, atmospheric and well-acted. It's a mixed bag, really.
Video and Audio:
It looks and sounds as though it were made for television, which it was. It does the job though, with some suitably creepy visuals and an appropriately gloomy score (save for Noonan's very teenage choice in workout music).
There are a number of deleted scenes, a couple of which could have done with being in the film itself. One of them even goes so far as to provide the biggest jump-scare of the entire film.