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[KING'S CORNER] Bag of Bones (2011)

Updated: Mar 19

Bag of Bones - King's Corner Review

Welcome to King's Corner. A recurring series of reviews based on the Film and TV adaptations of Stephen King's novels, reviewed and released in order of the original source material publishing date.

Ghosts are secrets. Throughout literary history they have been to an event from the past steeped in mystery or are used as symbolism for the demons that reside in the heart of a character's soul, drawn out by a haunting. With Stephen King these ideas have slotted nicely into a number of his stories. In his most famous ghost story, 'The Shining', he combines these ideas as the spirits of The Overlook hotel draw out the dark side of Jack Torrance leading to him turning on his family. Despite the success of the novel he has only revisited the genre through short stories like 'Sometimes They Come Back' and '1408' until the release of his 1998 book 'Bag of Bones'.

Director: Mick Garris

Starring: Pierce Brosnan, Annabelle Gish, Melissa George, Anika Noni Rose, Matt Frewer

Written by: Matt Venne

Produced by: Michael Mahoney

Cinematography by: Barry Donlevy

Original Score by: Nicholas Pike


After his wife's sudden death, a bestselling author returns to his cabin retreat, where he receives paranormal visitations and becomes involved in a custody battle.


In the late 90's King changed his publisher from Viking to Scribner. This change provided King with an opportunity to revisit this genre and explore some themes that proved popular in his early work. Scribner liked this idea but also wanted to push the marketing to amplify the romantic gothic elements of the story which aligned with one of King's inspirations for the novel, Daphne du Maurier's novel, 'Rebecca'. In an interview with Fangoria magazine in 1999 titled "Weathering Heights" King elaborated on this inspiration saying, "What I really wanted to do was see if I could bring Rebecca into the next century... Rebecca was not the person the narrator thinks she was. I thought, turn that inside out. Suppose the narrator finds out that his wife was involved with a lot of things he didn't know about, and he comes back to this place suspecting she was there and discovers something else entirely." The book ended up being a very personal one for King because out of all the characters who are writers throughout his bibliography, Mike Noonan was the one he felt was closest to representing who he was.

The novel's journey to the television screen started back in 2001 when Bruce Willis optioned the novel with the intention of releasing it in 2004, but it never got anywhere. A few years later King aficionado Mick Garris acquired the rights to the book. Initially it was intended to be made into a feature film before being developed into a miniseries due to air on the A&E Network in America. For Garris the project was like a dream come true as he mentioned in an interview with Collider in 2011, "The very first time I read it, I fell in love with it. There is a period of King's novel that included this and 'Lisey's Story', where they were very internal, they seemed very personal, and they were very passionate. There's always been a lot of emotion in King's books, but not a whole lot of romantic passion, and this was one."

The series opens with Mike Noonan (played by Pierce Brosnan) finishing off his latest novel with the help of his wife Jo (played by Annabeth Gish). It's a nice scene which establishes their loving relationship that appears to be akin to King's relationship with his wife Tabitha. What follows is a fatal accident outside one of Noonan's book signings when Jo gets hit by a bus. This causes Mike's life and work to spiral, leading him to a summer home in Maine where some secrets become unearthed, which is what the story is all about according to King. In an interview with Charlie Rose in 1998 he said, “you can't hide evil forever. Sooner or later it always comes back to haunt you."

When it comes to adaptations of King's work, Mick Garris is the most prolific to date and he is usually a safe pair of hands when it comes to King. His workmanlike and reverential approach are clear to see in 'Bag of Bones' as he unravels the layers of the mystery to get to the revelation at the heart of the story in what is a handsomely shot piece of work. The problem however lies in the journey as many scenes feel drawn out or repetitive. It feels like every other scene seems to find Mike calling out to the ghost of his dead wife for help leaving you drained by the time you reach the finale. Another issue is how the subplots play into the story. Instead of weaving naturally into it, they crash into it causing some major tonal issues for the miniseries.

These tonal issues lie primarily within the plot point featuring a custody battle between the recently widowed Mattie (played by Melissa George) and her father in law, Max Devore (played by William Schallert) over Mattie's daughter Kyra (played by Caitlin Carmichael). Up until the beginning of this part of the miniseries, a sombre tone prevails as Mike is still coming to terms with the death of his wife. The introduction of Max alongside his sister Rogette (played by Deborah Grover) makes the tone take a sharp turn into something sillier than what was established as they feel like cartoon villains. Both actor's give very arch performances making them feel like they belong in something like 'Creepshow' instead of what is supposed to be a mature ghost story. They sneer as they chew scenery and if either actor had a moustache it would be well twirled in what detracts rather than enhances the miniseries.

On top of this lies the mystery behind the murder of Sara Tidwell (played by Anika Noni Rose in a role originally offered to Kelly Rowland), a black singer who was killed in the 1930's. Her spirit haunts Mike, drawing him to the day of her murder in a series of flashbacks. Although it is part of a near 3 hour piece it still makes the show feel really dense, even though you know all of these plot elements will converge by the end. Instead of building off each other they are at times too dull to carry you through to the end.

For a story like 'Bag of Bones', the casting of Mike Noonan is crucial as they are your main guide throughout the miniseries. When Pierce Brosnan agreed to play the role it was seen as a major coup for Garris and company as it was Brosnan's first television role since his final stint as 007, but sadly he feels so miscast. The trademark charm that you would associate with his role as James Bond comes across as being smarmy rather than alluring, as you find it hard to empathise with his character. He is perfectly fine in the role when he is acting with other actors but when on his own it feels like a completely different performance and one he feels lost in. During the scene where he comes across Jo's body after the accident he feels like he is going through a box ticking exercise of every cliche a trainee actor would go through in that moment. He bellows in sorrow, falling to his knees in the most over dramatic fashion and matters aren't helped when this entire sequence is shot in slow motion. He also exhibits one of the most bizarre and alien laughs you are ever likely to hear this side of Tommy Wiseau's from 'The Room'. For all his faults you have to admire his commitment to the role. He isn't afraid to (literally) roll up his sleeves and dig through the dirt as he throws himself into the more ridiculous elements of the film such as the climactic fight with a haunted tree.

Whilst moments like these are rather silly and over the top other horror elements within the miniseries work quite well. It is clear that Garris loves the romanticism within the story but that doesn't hold him back from revelling in the mire of the horror. The jump scares may be telegraphed a mile away and feel repetitive but they give the series a jolt at the right moment to keep it rolling on. The crowning achievement of the miniseries lies in the special makeup effects as the rotting corpses of the dead are brilliantly repulsive and a credit to the team behind their design.

As far as the adaptation goes, 'Bag of Bones' is a very muddled affair. Afflicted by the imbalanced tone and a miscast lead, it doesn't fulfil the potential of the source material. Despite some genuinely great work behind the camera, too much of it in front simply doesn't work making it a bland addition to the canon of King adaptations and a mystery that may have been better left unsolved.

Verdict: ⭐️⭐️

- Joseph McElroy

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