Film Review: Needful Things – 6.5/10

‘I’ve always enjoyed ladies who take great pride in themselves...’

While Needful Things isn’t Stephen King’s most successful book, it is still a great concept and one that should lend itself to a cinematic adaptation. Arriving less than two years after the novel’s release, Fraser C. Heston’s adaptation leaves out some of the book’s darkest sections but successfully showcases a town spiralling out of control…

The small town of Castle Rock is cast into chaos when a mysterious shop (the eponymous Needful Things) opens up on Main Street. Leland Gaunt (Max von Sydow) is the enigmatic proprietor and he shows the townsfolk exactly what happens when everyone is suddenly given everything they ever wanted. Sheriff Alan Pangborn (Ed Harris) is the only man who can see through Gaunt and his evil box of tricks.

While toning down the book’s darker moments is a mistake (as is excluding the character of Ace Merrill), one thing that Heston does get right is the casting. von Sydow is suitably slimy as Gaunt and Harris brings an authoritative masculinity to Pangborn. Elsewhere, a starry cast is rounded out by Amanda Plummer, Bonnie Bedelia and J.T. Walsh – the latter of whom steals every scene in which he appears as the hapless town head-selectman Danforth “Buster” Keeton.

While it is understandable that the scenes of child suicide and animal cruelty are absent or watered down, there are other crucial elements of the book that are conspicuous by their absence. One of the key kickers of the novel is that all the items that Gaunt supplies to the townspeople are rotting and useless – it’s just they can’t see it. Heston dispenses with this subplot and the film is worse for it. The other issue here is the challenge of taking a 600-page novel and turning it into a cohesive two-hour film. Heston has a good go at this but we don’t spend enough time in Castle Rock with the characters behaving normally before it all goes to hell. This robs the film’s many scenes of violence of some of their emotional impact. Having said that this is an entertaining film and when taken on those terms, as a popcorn horror flick, Needful Things should be viewed as a mild success.

Needful Things is ultimately a decent adaptation of an uneven novel. Come for the concept. Stay for the cast.