Director: Mick Garris

Reviewed by Paghat the Ratgirl

Stephen King's Desperation (2006) is a good film for as long as Ron Perlman is in it. Originally a television miniseries, it's as long as two feature films, & Perlman's only in the first half. The second half falls all to bits & loses dramatic appeal, but if a viewer is prepared for it to end less interestingly than it starts, it'll have enough moments of interest all along the way.

Desperation is a small town in the Nevada desert, where phones including cell phones don't work, & electricity works now & then depending on the mood of the director rather than any logic to the story.

DesperationA young couple driving across the desert gets pulled over by the town's truly scary policeman (Perlman), & suddenly the game is on.

It's nonstop suspense from opening scene to the moment about twenty minutes later when the arresting officer gets the couple to Desperation, a town with corpses in the street, buzzards & crows everywhere, & feral dogs weirdly obedient to the police officer. On the stairs of the police station is the fresh corpse of a little girl, the officer's most recent of so many victims.

In the jail cells are a handful of people he's holding hostage rather than killing outright, including David (Shane Haboucha), the boy who will be treated by the script as a messiah figure who is a direct link to the Christian God.

Stephen King apparently thought it would be jolly original to write a horror story in which the Christian God is a real if never-directly-perceived power. Apparently he hasn't read any of the vast number of apocalyptic Christian horror novels, because what he develops in this story is an unusually poor example of its genre. It needn't have been filmed at such a length, either, because far too much of the dialogue is either didactic or boring, & conveys far too little of character while bringing the story to dead stops.

DesperationDavid prays a lot & has visions from God which are used to explain to the viewer everything that is going on, because none of it would make any sense if characters didn't stand in front of one another spelling it out.

One somewhat entertaining (even if amazingly hoky) "vision" sequence assumes a child's visions might take the form of old time silent movies, though I personally doubted this would be a familiar touchstone for a schoolboy. It added some visual novelty in a largely unsatisfactory film, but it didn't fit either the mood or the character. And it was massively totally expository, which is not good visual storytelling.

The officer is keeping some people alive not for his own nefarious purpose, but because God arranged for them all to be brought together, because they are needed collectively to fight Evil. No scene will ever justify the idea that they were all needed, however, & the script has a lot of trouble finding much for the majority to do, in an ending dominated by David & Tom Skeritt's character, an author who is kind of a stand-in for Stephen King himself, & in whom Skeritt manages to invest very little vitality or believability.

There's so much dreadful padding that this really could've been a normal-length feature film without losing one good bit after trimming out an hour or so. Bad dialogue could've been shortened, as well as many scenes that make no sense even in the context of fantasy.

For instance, while running about in a horrified emergency, would anyone really stop to put a coin in a one-armed bandit? Sure, if the point was to "win" a spew of tomato soup, in a deadpan parody of the blood gushing from the elevator in Stanley Kubrick's The Shining (1980), not to mention the similarly laughable self-referential "Redrum" schtick that has nothing whatsoever to do with the present film.

DesperationThere are easily a dozen misfiring bits seemingly inserted at random to keep the action quotient up & provide cliffhangers or mini-climaxes before each commercial, but without content within the scene, & making for very poor timing when it is viewed on dvd.

Failing bits like the cougar maybe having the soul of a Chinese guy, or the dead sister Pie (Sammi Hanratty) giving useless advice to David, or the "hey let's stop & play the slots" gag, these sorts of routines do nothing to advance even such an essentially commercial story as this.

After the demon inhabiting the police officer's body moves to the body of David's mother (Sylva Kelegian) -- a change that even occurs off-screen to further hamper possible interest -- & Ron Perlman is no long in the film, there is no performance of sufficient merit to sustain what small strength the first half of the story held. It's also from that point on that Christianity predominates, as the author played by Skerittt slowly comes to realize God is real & David's didactic explanation of a war between good & evil is true.

If it happens that none of it makes a lick of sense with this explanation, well, that's cuz God works in mysterious ways & we can never fathom his plan. What a great scam to explain away every lapse in sense, logic, or consistency!

For climax, they blow up the old mine to seal in the demon & stop Armageddon, though at no time does it really seem likely that one demon in the middle of bloody nowhere was going to destroy the world.

Of course, if the demon had been more than the local threat it appeared to be, the method of sealing the mine could just as easily have blown that silly CGI Hole to Hell even bigger.

Such lapses of credibility hardly matter when in "the larger picture" it's dumber still. Stephen King has written good vs evil stories before without needing to making them paeons to God the Father, without having to have characters explain it rather than experience it, his novel The Stand only the best of his efforts in this direction, adapted as a miniseries very nicely by the same director who has done so much less with Desperation.

Desperation is like a rewrite of The Stand by some religious fruitcake without much talent. But if twitchy Perlman could've been the whole damned show, it might've been good despite its lapses, preachings, & mistakes.

copyright by Paghat the Ratgirl

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