It’s often struck me as funny how the works of horror maestro Stephen King are so very hit and miss when it comes to film adaptations. I mean, sure, any translation of book to film is going to lose some element, some small detail that the visual medium just can’t quite pull out of the ether, but in King’s case, the films are often quite polarizing in their interpretations (*cough* ‘Salem’s Lot *cough*). It’s no surprise then, that it’s his short stories that often make better films, as there’s not as much of that “insider detail” to be lost as there is with a novel, when you spend a lot of time inside the character’s heads. Still, even without all of that dancing around in the thoughts and dreams of the characters, it’s difficult to make a film that has the same impact as that short tale in the pages, one that creates the same feeling, generates the same emotional response that the written word provides…
…unless, it would appear, you’re filmmaker Vanessa Ionta Wright, and you’ve taken one of King’s more obscure short stories, Rainy Season (from the Nightmares & Dreamscapes collection), and essentially molded the tale into a visual narrative.
John and Elsie Graham are a young couple heading to a cabin in the rural area of Willow, Maine — although not implicit, we kinda get the feeling that maybe this is a retreat to strengthen their relationship, or perhaps even salvage it. Arriving in the tiny town, they’re greeted by a kindly old man, sitting in front of the general store as one would expect — except this man seems kind of wooden at first, as though reciting something from memory. What’s more, what he’s saying seems to be discouraging the pair from traveling to their cabin, instead suggesting they stay in the local motel. John and Elsie are further confused when a local woman joins in, parroting the man’s diatribe, but adding that the town has already taken care of the accommodations at the hotel “to be fair”.
Confused and a bit put off by this behavior, John hastily excuses himself and his wife, and they quickly take their leave, heading to the somewhat dilapidated cottage, isolated in the surrounding outskirts of town. As night falls and the couple make what appear to be some stuttered attempts at reconnecting, thunder rolls in the darkness, but they don’t hear rain — instead there are strange, thudding sounds, soon followed by the breaking of glass and an ominous cacophony of croaking. As man and wife make their way through the little house, fearfully seeking the source of these sounds, they’ll find more than just answers to the strange attitudes of the locals…
Having read King’s short story years ago, I have to say that Wright’s screen adaptation and direction capture exactly the vibe I got when I did so. There’s an almost Lovecraftian feel going on here, with the locals knowing what has to happen, even “playing out their parts” for some unknown but obviously ancient ritual, but hating what they must do all at the same time. Visually, the film has production value that far outshines it’s budget, taking a less-is-more approach and making a very impressive show of it, using beautiful lighting and wide shots for the sunny day, while moving into more cramped, claustrophobic set ups for the night, turning the contrast and shadow of the darkness into something that generates the proper amount of dread for both the protagonists and the audience. Knowing the story, I was a little concerned at how the conclusion of the story would be done (reading it and seeing it would be two very different things) but Wright handled it with grace, taking would could have been visually silly and making it suspenseful and frightening.
The performances were in line with the skillful direction and cinematography, with Brian Ashton Smith and Anne-Marie Kennedy presenting us with a nuanced and believable couple in their portrayals of the Grahams. They convey two people obviously in love, but with some real issues between them in such a way that very little dialogue is required — you just feel both the love and the tension between them. “Playing their parts”, Kermit Rolison and Jan Nelson give us the down home locals in a light that’s convincing — they know what they must do, but it’s clearly evident they really don’t want to.
All in all, I have to say that Rainy Season delivered for me — despite it’s small budget, it’s honestly one of the closest and most accurate depictions of a King story I’ve seen in terms of the overall impression it gave me compared to when I read the tale itself. Recommended for fans of Stephen King, or anyone who enjoys short horror when done well.
Three pennies for a nickel.