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October 13, 2009

Riding the Bullet

2004, Dir. by Mick Garris.

I mentioned in my last review that a lot of the good horror movies made this decade don't come from America. That's true, but there have been a few smaller releases that slipped by a lot of viewers. One such film is the Stephen King adaptation Riding the Bullet, based on King's first electronically published novella. Though it's a gimmicky film that could have been fine tuned, this is an adaptation that reeks of Stephen King in the best way.

Alan Parker (Jonathan Jackson) is a young man who's fascinated with death to the point of attempting suicide on his October 30th birthday. He's stopped by his girlfriend (Erika Christiansen), and gets out of the hospital just in time to find out that his mother (Barbara Hershey) has suffered a stroke. While his friends are heading to a John Lennon concert (the film's set in the early '70s), Alan decides to hitchhike his way home to see Mom as soon as possible. But he doesn't get far without encountering some strange situations that put everything he knows up for reconsideration as he deals with the sarcastic alter-ego that's running loose in his mind.

What I admire so much about Riding the Bullet is how well the script resembles something King wrote. I haven't read the novella, but have read several King books and the dialogue and character dilemmas in this movie have King's stamp all over them. The use of Jackson in dual roles as Alan and the naysayer over his shoulder is an especially great touch, and I could picture the italicized text interjections in print whenever the other Alan spoke. There are also plenty of references to King's fictional version of Maine, some pop-culture references (including a disappointing final line), and more.

A lot of people forget that King's just as skilled at drama as he is at horror, and that shows through in this story. There's a great balance of the Stand By Me style character growth that at times makes the film seem like a coming of age tale, but the odd characters and chance meetings that remind of something like Desperation or Insomnia. The film is most definitely a drama about Alan first and a horror film second, but it's got more than enough of the creepy and supernatural to keep King fans happy.

Riding the Bullet has its fair share of problems. There are a lot of "false" scenes in which something is shown to happen, only to reveal that it was just Alan's imagination running wild. While this works occasionally to show his moral dilemma and the concerns he has, it gets tedious by the end of the film, and could have been toned down in some instances. The few special effects are pretty standard, too, and there are some unintentionally goofy moments with Arquette that kill a bit of the tension. Garris has never been a director I've been terribly impressed by, nut the visual presentation here is simple and effective -the film probably didn't need to try so hard to shock us with so many false reveals.

The finale is a great wrap up to the story's arc, and really closes out the importance of this Halloween night in Alan's life, and flashbacks also go far to make the drama stand out from your average thoughtless slasher. I guess, in the case of Riding the Bullet, it's better to reach for something more and fail at times than to aim for cheap scares and forget the plot. The movie does enough in reminding me what it is that makes King's work (and many of the films adapted from his work) so special to the horror crowd that I'm comfortable calling it a Solid Selection that holds a sentimental place in my heart.

1 comment:

Jennifer said...

I checked "Good work" on a review for a movie I think is really just terrible, Mike. :P

Yes, it's me, kicking your chair over here. I saw this one a few weeks ago and I have to say the story it's based on, while not great, was miles ahead of this adaptation. I think Arquette was a terrible choice as the driver.

I might give this one a second shot, but I honestly don't see myself changing my views on this one.