directed by Mick Garris
(Lions Gate, 2006)

This made-for-television movie is a faithful adaptation of Stephen King's Desperation. A group of diverse travelers across the Nevada desert all end up being arrested by an enormous, seemingly friendly sheriff named Collie Entragian. Some of the arrests have validity, while others are outright frame-ups with planted evidence. As the prisoners congregate in the local jail, they begin to work together to figure out what the heck is going on.

We find out that the local pit-mining company unearthed a long-buried mine-shaft, and an evil god or demon or spirit named Tak escaped. Tak possesses people or animals and wreaks havoc, seemingly just to exact revenge for having been buried, or maybe just because this spirit is mean-spirited. Tak can control many animals, getting them to guide him and help him in his plan to cause as much damage and pain as possible. At the start of the movie, Tak has Deputy Sheriff Entragian, causing Entragian to grow quite a bit and gradually wear out.

The detainees include John Edward Marinville, once-famous author who is trying to recapture his prime by traveling across the country on a big motorcycle, getting in touch with the "common folk," plus Steve Ames, Marinville's assistant on the trip; Cynthia Smith, a free-spirited hitchhiker picked up by Ames; Peter and Mary Jackson, a young couple driving Peter's sister's car across country; and the Carver family, Ralph, Ellie, David and Pie. Only some of these people will survive. Some will be possessed by Tak, some will perish opposing Tak and some will mount a very effective defense against the evil Tak brings. One will try to turn away, trying to wash his hands of the whole mess.

The movie flows well, the musical score fits the picture and never overwhelms it, and the setting is perfect, with the horror of Desperation, Nevada, being portrayed perfectly as a ghost-town filled with the newly dead. The camera angles give everything a very personal feel while capturing the wide-open nature of the desert. Special effects are generally good, especially with the portrayal of the animals controlled by Tak. The effects do slip a bit, though, with the portrayal of Pirin Nor, the Well of the Worlds, where Tak really lives. The painted, glowing rocks look very fabricated, instead of supernatural and steeped in evil and hatred.

But it's the acting that makes the movie. Steven Weber is perfect as Ames, a good guy who has not achieved much in life but is fairly comfortable with who he is. Matt Frewer is Ralph Carver, father of the Carver family, who is likewise good if not particularly courageous. Sylva Kelegian is Ellie Carver, the mom, and she is a caring but tough lady who is not to be taken lightly. Sammi Hanratty is young Pie, the little girl who dies early in the film but plays a big role throughout, nonetheless. Charles Durning is Tom Billingsley, the town veterinarian and good old boy.

That leaves the three big stars of the film. Tom Skerritt is great as the jaded, arrogant, know-it-all and don't-give-a-damn John Edward Marinville, who has seen too much, done too much, failed too much and wants to hide every weakness. Ron Perlman seems to have a great time as the hulking, possessed, nice-guy-gone-crazy Entragian. He is outrageous in his behavior, and makes you believe Tak might just win -- and have a lot of fun destroying everything and everyone in his way.

And then there's the best performance of the movie: Shane Haboucha as David Carver. David is a 12- or 13-year-old boy who recently found God after his best friend was almost killed in a car accident. Haboucha portrays David as intelligent, a bit defiant, wanting to be respectful, wanting to prove himself as an individual, occasionally sarcastic, and very much a realistic pre-teen or early teenager. Haboucha nails this portrayal perfectly, and I look forward to his work in the future.

As with many works of Stephen King, this is a classic Good-versus-Evil showdown, with the religious and the supernatural invading the real lives of some very realistic characters. We saw this in The Stand and The Green Mile, and we see it done beautifully here. We get to know these characters, and we get to like or dislike them, and we get to cheer them on toward some form of triumph. Bravo!

by Chris McCallister
20 January 2007

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