Before I go into the plot details, here’s a bit of back story to the ‘film’: whilst not entirely an adaptation, Rose Red was scripted by Stephen King in 1999. Originally intended to be a full length feature film, King pitched the idea to none other than Steven Spielberg, who wanted it have more thrills and action scenes, an idea which strayed too far from King’s horror vision for the picture. After unsuccessfully pitching to a producer he’d worked with before on Sleepwalkers and The Stand, he found a producer in Mark Caliner, a man who had previously lent his hands to the lesser known but King approved 1990 version of The Shining and also 1999’s Storm of the Century. As some may be aware, King was hit by a car in 1999, which obviously delayed work on Rose Red. However, the accident didn’t put him off finishing the project, and possibly because of the amount of time it took for him to recover, the original script now 4 times as long, thus becoming a TV mini-series. It was screened on ABC in January 2002. But enough of that. To the plot! Dr Joyce Reardon is a psychology professor with a taste for the supernatural, frequently straying into the topic of ghosts and the paranormal in her lectures, much to the annoyance of Dr. Carl Miller, Head of the Psychology department. During one of her lectures, after asking if any of the students have any questions, one by the name of Kevin Bollinger quizzes her on her rumoured trip to ‘Rose Red’, a vast, derelict mansion with a notorious reputation for being haunted due to its dark history and suspiciously high number of disappearing visitors. Reardon reveals that she is indeed leading a group of psychics with unique abilities into Rose Red, with the goal of proving the existence of paranormal phenomena. Over the course of their visit, they quickly discover that the house is very much alive, and particular members of their group could hold the key to their survival.
Split into 3 parts with each having a length of about 90 minutes, it felt a little challenging at times to watch continuously. Whilst part 1 is, understandably, all about the character introductions and getting an idea of just how menacing the house is, there’s certainly lulls in the narrative and a sense of King dragging out scenes unnecessarily to pad out the meaty runtime. It would’ve been acceptable if the longevity of the series meant that the characters were well developed and we cared about their fates, but quite frankly, there’s only one that gets this treatment. Bumbling “mummy’s boy” Emery Waterman (Matt Ross, Face/Off, Twelve Monkeys) is the only person that has enough originality to warrant any kind of emotional investment. The leading protagonist of Joyce Reardon starts off promisingly enough, but by the end, after a plethora of other characters have arrived and attempted to win us over, she simply becomes another statistic. Julian Sands provides the unintentional comic relief with his splendidly OTT portrayal of the stereotypically wise Brit, a role he perfected in spider horror Arachnophobia. Annie Wheaton, played by Kimberly J. Brown, is an integral part of the plot, but her acting isn’t anything special. On the flip side, there’s only so much you can do as a character who doesn’t speak. What Stephen King is good at though is creating an entirely new universe and sucking the reader/viewer into the surroundings, and the story of the Rose Red house and family is no exception to this.
The life and times of the Rimbauers and their house could possibly be the highlight of Rose Red. Told through flashbacks, each one is necessary to fully understand what the house actually is. In these flashbacks, the mansion has been restored (obviously) and it’s reported that the restoration cost the production team around $500,000 alone. What’s more eye opening is the budget for the entire project was intended to be around $5 million. After all was said and done though, it was closer to an astonishing $35 million. It doesn’t seem to have gone to waste: the special effects are incredible for the time of production and the format it was made for (commerical broadcasting channel, ABC). It’s also for this reason that the content isn’t all that scary or blood filled: the censors for ‘regular’ television are much stricter than for cable (or Sky TV, for UK readers). As I was saying though, the rich history of the fictional Rimbauers is captivating, and it’s those scenes that stick with the viewer more than the obvious ‘jump’ scenes.
Ultimately, Rose Red appears to be closer to its subject matter than it knows: a script that was perfectly acceptable to start with but grew and grew with time until it couldn’t be controlled. What’s left is a sprawling, slow and hollow haunted house story that (eventually) reaches a disappointing climax. The Rimbauer story is undoubtedly the star of the show, and fortunately more of it was revealed in Craig R. Baxley’s film The Diary of Ellen Rimbauer. The set design is also something that cannot be faultered, and the intricate layout of the house must have taken some time to get right.
I’m not going to suggest you avoid this, because it does have its charms. Just don’t expect a thrill-a-minute scare fest.