This 1998 adaptation of the novella by the same name is one that tends to go under people’s radars. As the credits were rolling, my roommate, who was focusing on his laptop, looked up and asked if this was based on the Stephen King work. When we answered in the affirmative, he said that he didn’t know that they had made a movie adaptation of it.
Bryan Singer takes the helm on this adaptation. In an interesting bit of foreshadowing, Singer cast Sir Ian McKellan in the role of Dussander, Bruce Davison has a supporting role as well. The two characters would work together again when Singer cast them both in the X-Men films.
The film focuses on Todd Bowden, a high school student who has an odd fascination with the holocaust. The movie gives the implication that this is the first time he’s hearing of it, which is weird, but let’s just say that he had a basic knowledge and wanted to know more. He goes on a researching binge, reading everything he can find, looking at photographs, the whole nine.
The research pays off when he sees a man on a bus who happens to look like one of the SS soldiers he saw in the textbook. The setup is really my biggest problem with this film. There’s something weird about the idea of running into a nazi war criminal while riding the bus. I can’t put my finger on it, but something about it just rubs me the wrong way.
This discovery sets Todd into Batman mode, he lifts fingerprints off the man’s mailbox and digs up all sorts of dirt on him before he finally knocks on the man’s door to meet him face to face. His curiosity leads him to blackmail the old man to tell him everything about what happened decades ago.
This has a two pronged effect on the characters. It puts images into Todd’s head that haunt his dreams and it reawakens the monster within Dussander. Despite the charming exterior shell, Dussander really is an embodiment of evil. He’s not one of those soldiers who did what he did and regrets it, he liked it. After the sleeper has awakened he decides to pick up where he left off, Dussander even goes out of his way to try to cook a cat in the oven. If that’s not a moral event horizon, I don’t know what is.
On Todd’s side, the images and stories end up taking their toll on him and his grades start to slip. He, of course, blames Dussander for telling him all these things that screwed him up. You know, the things he made Dussander tell him. He also starts to develop sociopathic tendencies of his own.
One of the major highlights of the film is seeing Dussander turn the tables on Todd and slowly gain the upper hand in their little relationship. It was fun seeing McKellan put the kid in his place and show that he wasn’t going to just lie down and take it.
Overall though, the movie’s OK. I mean, aside from the bizarre setup and the fact that there isn’t really a protagonist to speak of, there’s nothing really bad about the film. It’s all OK. The acting’s OK, the directing is OK, the score is OK. Everything about the film is OK.