There are so many trademark Stephen King devices in this adaptation of a 1996 best-seller that the presence of the author’s name in the title almost comes off as an unfortunate pun. Yet while Desperation hardly features King’s most original plot, it vividly embodies his gift for squeezing brutal suspense and stinging social commentary from feverishly goofy ideas.
Like many King potboilers, Desperation deals with an ancient demonic entity that adopts the form of a more tangible nightmare figure—in this case, a redneck sheriff (Ron Perlman) who kills off the entire population of Desperation, Nevada, then turns his attention to unfortunate passing motorists. Predictably, the heroes (chiefly Tom Skerritt as a cocky novelist) can stop the evil force only by following the cryptic advice that another character receives in visions (Shane Haboucha plays David, a young boy receiving direct orders from God Himself). Perlman has a grand old time playing the lawman possessed by the extradimensional Tak, but his shenanigans are only an appetizer for a series of tense and surreal set pieces, including a hallucinatory flashback that takes the form of a faux silent movie. That sequence makes it possible to read Desperation as a timely allegory for America’s treatment of immigrants; even so, the message never saddles the story with more weight than it can bear. This is the fifth time that King has adapted his own work in tandem with director Mick Garris, and none of their collaborations have more thoroughly reflected the writer’s gonzo vision.—Andrew Johnston