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TV REVIEW: Stephen King's Bag of Bones (Part 1)

12.12.2011by: Jake Dee

PLOT: A bereaved novelist decides to take residence in an isolated lake-house after his wife dies, but as he struggles to finish his latest book, a rash of inexplicable phenomena begins to occur. Is it his wife's spirit trying to communicate? Something more sinister out to get him? Perhaps both?

REVIEW: Oh Mick Garris, what have ye done?!? Now let me preface this review with the admission that I have not read the source material Stephen King published in 1998, but I have seen enough King adaptations - both for big and small screen - to know which ones work and which ones don't. And while I hesitate to compare BAG OF BONES in those terms, rather I'd like to judge this one on its own merits (or demerits), so far part one of BAG OF BONES is too rife with horror platitude and schlocky TV hokum to warrant many legitimate scares. Without spoiling too much, let me try to explain what I mean.

Pierce Brosnan is Mike Noonan, a writer blindsided by the sudden death of his wife and unborn child. He can no longer write, despite his editor Marty (Jason Priestly) breathing down his neck with a due date. His wife Joan (Annabeth Gish) haunts the bulk of his thoughts - consciously and subconsciously - so much so that Mike begins communicating with her, at least he believes that to be the case early on. Twisted dreams, convoluted flashbacks and fractured memories come crashing on Mike like an emotional downpour. How can he escape? He retreats to the lake-house he inherited in search for not only time to finish his latest novel, but to find an ultimate sense of spiritual ablution. What he didn't account for? Whatever's waiting for him at the cabin.

There are many issues I take with BAG OF BONES, so let me start with what I actually liked about the show. I think, for the most part, Pierce Brosnan does a decent job portraying a tormented, grief-stricken widower...despite giving an uneven performance. One moment you feel for the guy, the next you can't tell if he's lachrymose over his wife, or if he's simply fighting a case of bad gas. As he begins a boozy lament, his behavior comes into question...he fondles a cherished painting in the cabin, for example (yes, you read that correctly)...and he begins speaking to wall-mounted moose-head. Things are getting awfully strange, and if there's reason to buy anything of these happenings, it's because of Brosnan's ability to take us there. Just take a look at the way Pierce interacts with the other actors, save for the underused Melissa George. He's a film actor surrounded by a sea of TV actors, which isn't to say he's better, but stylistically, there seems to be a disconnect. We can see and feel natural acting vs. unnatural acting, set against a tale of the supernatural...and the resulting misalignment.

But really, at the end of the day, BAG OF BONES is just not very frightening. It's nowhere near the best of King adaptations, regardless of medium. Actually, in reference to the last point made about Brosnan and TV actors, BAG OF BONES seems uncertain in its own nature. Is it a two-part made for TV movie? Is it a short miniseries? We know Garris meanders between TV and film, but here, it seems like he's not sure which format he's committed to. Some scenes read as weepy Lifetime dross, others seem like well crafted film sequences. The result is jumbled, and the inconsistency kind of takes you out of the show pretty quickly. I also downright loathed the overabundance of musical cues and superfluous sound FX. How often do we see it...loud crashes, swells and stings that only function as a way to tell you "okay, be scared now." Damn I hate that. Don't the people who do that realize silence can be just as scary, perhaps even more so when done right?

In many other instances, BAG OF BONES serves as a playbook of horror clichés. You can forgive some, as they derive from King's previous work (THE SHINING comes to mind immediately), but overall, there isn't much we haven't seen before in some form or fashion. Therefore, like most of King's work, it becomes about the people in the horrific situation as much as it is about the horrific situation itself. To that end, I expect the second part of the show to feature a lot more of Mattie Devore (George), her family and local seductress Sara Tidwell (Anika Noni Rose). If these characters are weaved into a more compelling narrative, perhaps BAG OF BONES will be worth unzipping after-all. We shall see...

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