There's nothing better than a good Stephen King miniseries. "The Reaper" introduction from The Stand and the evil clown from It are illustrious beacons of classic King TV. Sadly, Pierce Brosnan's epic showdown with a tree in Bag Of Bones, airing this Sunday and Monday, is not quite in the same league.
All headline zingers aside, Bag Of Bones could have been a pretty fun piece of horror entertainment — but instead it's weighted down by its own cast of characters who have absolutely nothing to do with anything at all. Spoilers ahead...
Speckled Fox Pierce Brosnan plays the role of devoted husband and literary superstar Mike Noonan. We first meet Noonan finishing his next blockbuster novel. Like a hungry swallow, Noonan stands over his beloved wife (Annabeth Gish) fluffing his feathers and pecking at her cheek. She's been summoned to his side to type out the very last sentence of his novel. She asks Noonan why he always wants her to write the last line of his books? "Because these books, all of these books, he couldn't write them without her." So yeah, it's that kind of movie.
Fast forward many moons, and poor Jo is run down by a bus right outside Noonan's bestseller book signing. And if that wasn't convenient enough for you she's clutching a pregnancy test. Yada yada yada Pierce Brosnan makes a lot of crazy "Oh Noooooo" faces.
With his wife dead, Noonan is alone and miserable. His only comfort: an ipad which he mashes against his high cheekbones, while images of his beloved scroll across. Brosnan does a pretty good job being a miserable so-and-so... until he starts suspecting that his wife was cheating on him (because they couldn't get pregnant.) And that's a plot line which goes absolutely nowhere.
But for the most part (or at least the first half of the series) the misery is there and it's a strong narrative thread. Soon enough, his wife starts communicating with Noonan via phone rings and bell tings, "Once for Yes twice for no." After some back-and-forth ghostly banter and a few creepy nightmares Noonan heads to their cabin on Dark Score Lake. Thinking this is where his dead wife wants him to go, and that the cabin might help rid him of his intense writer's block. Sadly the writer's block misery portal in the original book is particularly difficult to depict on screen (which is understandable, since it's a highly internalized feeling). However we are a bit sad that most of this shame spiral and self-loathing brain battering was cut from the miniseries. Ah well — more time for ghosts.
While living at Dark Score, Lake Noonan immediately picks up with a single Mom and starts badgering the townsfolk to find out if his wife was cheating on him. Meanwhile the ghost of his wife keeps reaching out to Noonan about the devious deeds that happened on Dark Score Lake a long time ago. Noonan is hot on the trail of an old timey murder, which reveals the secret behind Dark Score Lake — and which has absolutely nothing to do with his wife at all (besides the fact that she knew about it). Enter the rest of the random townsfolk, including the evilest man ever to evil a wheelchair. And his ridiculous counterpart, Natasha from Bullwinkle. Character after character is paraded and executed across the screen, in attempt to build drama around the secret of Dark Score Lake and its problem with drowning little girls. Alas there are too many people, and not enough emotional attachment to heighten the final reveal. And it just spirals completely out of control from there.
First Contact: The first couple times Noonan's wife Jo reaches out from the great beyond gave us goosebumps. What could have been an exceptionally cheesy moment (Jo contacts him via fridge magnets) is actually pretty spooky when paired with the scratch, scratch, scratching noises each movement made. The first 30 minutes of ghostly activity are all pretty chilling.
Anika Noni Rose: She's a ghost with a dark past. Anika Noni Rose plays Sara Tidwell a singer from years gone by, her face and music haunt Noonan's dreams every night. Thankfully she's an amazing singer. Casting this songstress was a great win for Bag of Bones. If we're going to have to listen to the warbles of an old ghost, we're glad they sound this good.
Pierce Brosnan beats someone to death with a kitchen mallet. No, seriously — he chases this guy out of the kitchen and just beats the shit out of him with the meat-tenderizing mallet. It was awesome.
Too many people, too little chemistry: Women are being flung at women at Noonan left and right. The character Mattie and Noonan start a relationship almost directly after meeting one another. It's too soon, why does he even like this woman, his wife just died? Random old white men gobble up screen time with little to no explanation as to who they are or why they are important. Then these old white men are even granted copious flashback time, but we haven't a bloody clue as to who these people are? Everyone looked the same and no one particularly stood out besides the head honcho villain. So when Noonan starts getting attacked by said old white men it's absolutely maddening to try and remember who these people are and why they're all so pissed.
Too Many Questions: The miniseries tries to juggle entirely too many questions. Here are just a few: Why was his wife pregnant? Was she cheating on him? Why is the "Green Lady" tree outside of the lake shaped so much like a woman? What is the curse of Dark Score Lake? Why is Pierce's brother American? Why is the "trunk book" so important to Noonan? If he has a book already done, why is he writing another and freaking out about the deadline? Who are all the dead kids? Why did the head villain exit the way he did? What sort of power is controlling the townsfolk of Dark Score Lake? What happened to Sara Tidwell?
Repetition: Repeating "with custody comes responsibility" may have worked in writing, but when characters just start prattling off nonsensical loaded sentences, the impact is pretty much null. This happens quite a bit throughout most of the miniseries.
Cartoony Villains: Oh boy. Look, King is a master at creating amazing villains. There is no soul too rotten, or action too terrible for a King creation. Sadly, Max Devore is less of an evil human being and more of a smiling long-toothed raptor, menacingly rubbing its tiny claws together. There's one scene where his sidekick, the evil white lady, actually starts throwing rocks at Noonan's head. Rocks. They belonged in the boardroom of the Muppet Movie, not a movie about drowned children.
Pierce Brosnan fights a tree.
If you enjoyed, the book you may be able to get by on the references alone — but if you're looking for a frightening look inside the horrifying world of writer's block, you should pass. The clunky ending and random bag of characters weigh down this miniseries (which may not be entirely the fault of the TV movie creators, since they didn't write the ending). If you enjoy King translations with a healthy helping of nacho cheese, this is the series for you.