Montreal Film Journal


I wonder if people will ever understand that Stephen King's horror stories aren't easy to turn into movies. Though some adaptations have been top notch ("Carrie", "The Shining", "The Dead Zone"), most have sucked some serious ass. This latest King flick is interesting, but it ain't half as riveting as the novella that inspired it. I guess that some stuff would be too horrible on-screen: almost all of the book's graphic horrors (rape, massacre...) have been taken out. The filmmakers apparently preferred to focus on psychological horror.

Brad Renfro stars as a teenager with an unhealthy fascination for the Holocaust. You'd think he was a fuck-up, but he's actually a promising young man, articulate, intelligent and athletic. Some day, he comes across an old German guy (Ian McKellen) on the bus and after some research, he realizes that the man's actually a war criminal who worked in concentration camps. That's just the beginning of a series of elaborate mind games between the two. Renfro just wants McKellen to tell him about all the sordid things that went on during the war, but he doesn't know what he's in for... Human nature can be capable of great evil...

The film was directed by Bryan Singer, famous for the puzzled and stylish "The Usual Suspects". His new film is not as skillful or impressive, but that might be because it has a straightforward plot that mostly revolves around the two leads messing with each other's mind in an old house. It's kind of hard to be visually daring with such an introspective story. Hence, Singer worked more closely with the actors. Brad Renfro's still a young man, but he's already delivered strong performances in movies like "The Client", "Sleepers" and "Telling Lies In America". Once again, he's unnervingly believable, even faced with the great McKellen, who's chilling as the old Nazi. Actually, he's not scary per se, being a tired old man, but you can see that he's still strong-minded. The film also features Dawson's Creek's always enjoyable Joshua Jackson as Renfro's best friend as well as Friends' David Schwimmer as a guidance counselor.

If the film doesn't have the power of De Palma's "Carrie" (my favorite King adaptation), it's still a worthy picture. Singer interestingly takes his time to expose what the film's about. What seems like just a sick mentor/protégé parable slowly evolves into a tale about how an all-American high school kid with everything going for him can risk it all just to satisfy his craving for a Nazi's inhuman stories. I personally think that the film could have been tighter and gorier, but it's still worth checking out.