January 27, 2002
Craig R. Baxley
Nancy Travis as Prof. Joyce Reardon
Matt Keeslar as Steve Rimbauer
Kimberly J. Brown as Annie Wheaton
Julian Sands as Nick Hardaway
Emily Deschanel as Pam Asbury
Joyce Reardon (Nancy Travis) is a college professor with a problem: the psychology department at the university believes her theories on psychic phenomena and the paranormal to be a joke. However, she thinks she has a way to prove them all wrong: a scientific expedition to Rose Red, a mansion with a dark and bloody past. She won’t be going alone, though, as she’s recruited a band of psychics with a variety of talents to awaken the “dead cell”. This includes Pam (Emily Deschanel in one of her earliest roles), a “touch psychic”; Nick (Julian Sands), a mind reader; Cathy (Judith Ivey), an automatic writer; and Emery (Matt Ross), who experiences psychic visions. However, Joyce would trade them all for her “key”, an autistic teenager with immense psychic power named Annie (Kimberly J. Brown). Together, they cross the threshold, unaware that the house’s spirits may just be lying in wait to feed off them and their energy.
In 1999, Stephen King and director Craig R. Baxley teamed up to create Storm of the Century, a great and underrated TV miniseries. King next tried to write an original haunted house screenplay (inspired by Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House) initially planned as a feature film (supposedly for Steven Spielberg). After delays due to rewrites and King’s infamous “hit and run” injuries, the script would evolve into the Rose Red TV miniseries and would again end up in Baxley’s hands. The story borrows some elements from other King tales, particularly The Shining and Carrie, yet still stands on its own through atmosphere and characters, proving the first Baxley-King collaboration was no fluke.
If one of the reasons The Shining worked was the dark and forboding Overlook Hotel, then Rose Red benefits in much the same way from its mansion. Based loosely on Sarah Winchester and her famous “Mystery” House, the building is imposing to begin with from its sheer size and only made more impressive with its ever-changing architecture, interesting rooms, and well-done, if at times dated, special effects. The atmosphere of the mansion also works hand-in-hand with the outstanding mythology of the building that the characters find themselves learning about and interacting with. The backstory, whether it be missing Hollywood actresses, suicide, murder, séances, or missing children, serves to make the house a character in its own right and makes the overall product that much stronger and more interesting.
However, while atmosphere and story can make a miniseries good, interesting characters can make it great. Rose Red is filled with excellent performances with some worthy of special mention. First, Nancy Travis’s “Joyce” has tremendous depth, combining a likable drive to obtain her “proof” and disprove doubters… with possibly psychotic tendencies that threaten the entire group. Also great is Kimberly J. Brown’s “Annie”, a mostly silent performance that combines childlike innocence with unmistakable power. Julian Sands as “Nick” is also crucial as he seems to be the most reasonable and relatable of the psychic team, combining his high psychic prowess with a strong tendency to generally use his abilities for the group’s true greater good. He’s also quite a funny character, a trait shared by the other great performance, that of Matt Ross as “Emery”. It takes a tremendous actor to turn a character as miserable and whiny as this one is into the oddly likable source of humor found here.
However, Rose Red is also the kind of movie that needs to be “stuck with” due to its slow development. The first part of the three-part miniseries is significantly weaker than the other two as the group has not even arrived at the house yet. Granted, this problem is blunted slightly by the introduction of the psychic team and the look back at some of the house’s dark past (and just how great the other two parts are), but it’s still noticeable when watching the three parts in succession. The miniseries’ DVD release is also hampered by the expected flaws of such a release: many fades to black originally for commercials, a tendency to transition using shots of statues around the grounds, and some odd jump scares that don’t amount to much other than leading into said commercials. However, the break point between the two discs here is well-placed, falling between parts 2 and 3 and not in the middle of a part as on the release of Storm of the Century. Finally, it should be noted that the miniseries will forever be compared to the classic movies it seems to draw inspiration from, whether it be the hauntings and supernatural tendencies of The Shining or the psychic teenager (and her tendency to drop rocks on buildings) from Carrie. It’s certainly a great miniseries, but it’s not quite on the same levels as those films.
Rose Red is another example of a great, underrated King miniseries. Its brilliant 2nd and 3rd parts overcome any weakness of its slower, but still interesting, first third. While it also feels a bit derivative of some of King’s better known feature films, it adds enough of its own unique elements from its atmosphere and characters to stand as its own entity. Baxley is said to have since described Rose Red as one of his favorite experiences, and its easy to see why in the final product.