Plot: Professor Joyce Reardon (Nancy Travis) is a psychology instructor with an intense interest in the supernatural, especially the infamous Rose Red, a notorious house that has long been considered to be haunted. But Reardon is convinced that Rose Red is now a dead cell in terms of paranormal activities, so she plans to assemble a team to go inside, just before it is demolished. She has a wide scope of gifted psychics, each skilled in a unique field, but she is certain she needs the presence of Annie, a young girl with some remarkable psychic abilities. After a confrontation with her boss, who feels this Rose Red expedition will discredit her work and the university at large, Reardon refuses to back down and heads to the house, with her squad in tow. But will Annie be able to take part in this paranormal adventure and if so, will Reardon find what she’s after inside Rose Red or will she uncover a much darker truth?
Entertainment Value: This television mini-series event was written by Stephen King and has an impressive cast involved, but Rose Red winds up as a run of the mill haunted house tale and little more. As Rose Red runs four hours in duration, it tends to feel a little bloated and while I don’t think a lot of time is wasted, there is a good amount of filler and scenes that don’t add much to the experience. The narrative is solid and has a lot of potential, but doesn’t have the depth to support the extensive run time and feels thin in most sequences. Rose Red works well at times however, with some good atmosphere and eerie touches, not to mention a good cast that is head and shoulders above the usual made for television projects. I think the build up to the arrival at the house is well done, as we’re able to learn a little about the characters and the history of Rose Red, but the exposition never feels dense or oppressive. That is no simple task and this movie nails it, but then starts to slow down once we reach Rose Red and as time passes inside the house, the quality drops off more and more. I do think the movie rights the course a little toward the finale, but the conclusion is rather bland and predictable, which is a shame, after four hours of commitment.
The other main issue with Rose Red is that as a made for television production, the limitations are rather strict and the movie struggles to deliver scares, since there’s little room for horrific elements. I’ve seen haunted houses that lean on atmosphere and simple tricks to build an effective mood, but that is harder to pull off than it sounds and Rose Red is unable to make it work. The tension is solid at times and the few flashes of genuine horror are fun, but I think the mostly family friendly approach that the platform demands compromised the scare potential. But even the lackluster, generic scenes tend to come off as watchable thanks to the cast, which as I said before, is much better than you might expect. Nancy Travis has the central role, but she is surrounded by a great supporting ensemble with no real weak links. Travis is solid, but it is her costars that stand out and with Julian Sands, Emily Deschanel, Kevin Tighe, Melanie Lynskey, David Dukes, and Matt Ross on deck, that is no surprise. The movie is careful to give everyone enough chances to shine and the cast makes the most of those opportunities, though they take different approaches. For instance, Lynskey and Deschanel take more a restrained, natural tone, while Sands and Ross dial up the camp a little, especially Ross in a few scenes where he really goes over the top. I’d easily rank the cast as one of the best parts of Rose Red. In the end, there are enough small bursts of fun to recommend Rose Red to fans of Stephen King and haunted house sagas, but keep your expectations in check, as it is rather inconsistent.