Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Desperation (2006)(Spoiler Review)

**This review contains spoilers**

Mary (Annabeth Gish) and Peter (Henry Thomas) Jackson are taking a road trip to New York. During a stint on the back roads of the Nevada desert, Collie Entragian (Ron Perlman), the town Sheriff in Desperation, forces the couple to stop for a missing license plate. A simple trip to return the car to David’s sister takes a turn for the worst, when Collie finds a large bag of marijuana in the trunk. Without hesitation, Collie arrests Peter and Mary for possession with the intent to sell and distribute.

In Desperation, Peter and Mary are horrified at a desolate landscape, including scattered dead bodies and deserted buildings. At the holding cells in Desperation’s police station, Mary meets a young David Carver (Shane Haboucha), his father, Ralph (Matt Frewer), his mother, Ellen (Sylvia Kelegian), and Tom Billingsley (Charles Durning), an elderly resident of Desperation. Eventually, Collie captures Johnny Marinville (Tom Skerritt), a famous writer, who’s looking for inspiration for his next book. Johnny joins the other prisoners in the holding cells.

After a while, the prisoners realize they have one thing in common with each other: Collie abused his powers as Sheriff to arrest everyone. No phone calls, no lawyers, nothing. Help from the outside is a long shot, but Johnny has an ace up his sleeve. Unbeknownst to Collie, Johnny made a phone call to his assistant, Steve Ames (Steven Weber) for a helping hand.

During the night, Steve arrives in Desperation with a hitchhiker named Cynthia Smith (Kelly Overton). Steve and Cynthia search the city for Johnny and the others, but an endless trail of mangled corpses complicates the rescue mission. With some help from an old roll of reel film, David learns the truth about Collie: Collie is possessed by Tak, an evil entity, who was released from the mine in Desperation years ago.

Tak uses his powers to control bloodthirsty dogs and panthers, so he can use them as weapons. Although, human bodies can’t sustain Tak’s powers, so Tak is forced to switch vessels frequently, but Tak is running out of human bodies to possess. Tak kidnaps Mary, and with guidance from God, and his sister, Pie (Sammi Hanratty), David leads an all-out assault to stop Tak once and for all.

It’s a toss up between Skerritt and Perlman for the best performance here. Perlman’s hokey performance as this sadistic Sheriff with a dark sense of humor is fun to watch. Skerritt is spot on as this remorseless jerk with an ego, but the Johnny character has a (predictable) change of heart towards the end. Shane Haboucha delivers a competent performance as David, and the rest of the supporting cast ranges from decent to mediocre.

Do you believe? It’s a reoccurring question throughout Desperation. David puts all his faith in God to guide him through Desperation, so he can lead the others to fight Tak. As a non-believer, David’s devotion to God infuriates Ellen (Ellen is still upset over Pie’s death in Desperation), and Johnny won’t accept a cruel God.

The battle of beliefs bounces back and forth, but the religious side of Desperation never overwhelms the story. There’s an even balance of spooky horror, the fight to stop Tak, and David’s mission to convince everyone to have faith, so you don’t have to worry about any muddling problems.

Who’s the hero? Well if you guessed David, you’re wrong. Years ago, Johnny crossed paths with Tak during the Vietnam War. In Vietnam, Johnny witnessed a possessed victim arm a bomb in the bathroom of a bar, but Johnny didn’t warn anyone about the looming explosion. Instead, Johnny ran from the bar to save his own skin, leaving everyone else to die in the blast.

During the big showdown, Johnny believes in David and his faith in God, but his conscience kicks in at the last second. Johnny won’t allow David to risk his life in the fight against Tak. On top of that, Johnny takes advantage at a second shot of redemption for Vietnam. Johnny hugs David good-bye, and with the remaining explosives, Johnny marches into the mine alone to confront and destroy Tak. In the mine, Tak pulls Johnny into a deep hole. Johnny injures his leg, and he’s unable to stand. After the fall, Johnny sacrifices himself by using his last ounce of strength to fire a gunshot as the trigger for the explosives.

Predictable. It’s the only word you can use to describe this finale. You could see Johnny’s change of heart coming from a mile away, and you knew he would sacrifice himself as the lone combatant to fight Tak, because Johnny needed redemption for Vietnam and his actions in Desperation ( long story short, Johnny was a real jerk to everyone). Still, Desperation delivers a satisfying finale. The timeless formula for a small band of unlikely heroes rising to the occasion to defeat a seemingly unstoppable evil power works in Desperation, and Johnny’s one-liner (“I hate critics!”) before the big explosion brought a good laugh out of me.

Desperation isn’t terrible, but it’s nothing to brag about. Unfortunately,  Desperation suffers from the usual problems in a Stephen King adaptation that’s made for TV: an overall so-so cast, an overlong runtime (the commercial breaks provide some relief on TV), and tacky special effects (i.e. Tak in a bodiless form towards the end). With all that said, director Mick Garris provides a chilling and eerie ghost town atmosphere for Desperation, and you’ll see a few nasty and cringeworthy moments (the decaying bodies of Tak’s victims, a slot machine that dispenses blood, etc.). Also, without Perlman and Skerritt, Desperation could’ve been a lot worse. It’s not Brian De Palma’s Carrie (or The Mist), but if you’re a fan of Stephen King and Stephen King adaptations, Desperation is worth a try.

Rating: 6/10

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