Stephen King On Screen (2023)

Director: Daphné Baiwir

Running Time: 105 Minutes

Certification: 15

Having published 65 novels to date and over 200 known short stories, many of which have received adaptations, Stephen King is a prolific writer known as being the Master of Horror. This is well depicted in an opening sequence where a woman drives through a forest into Maine, a sequence littered with many references to the author's works from visual cues to name-drops and cameos. As this cute idea continues on, one wishes that director Daphné Baiwir continued this unique vision from the opening into the actual documentary.

What unfolds takes a more conventional approach of talking heads discussing King's works. As the shared stories include picking up his books, or getting into them through the feature adaptations, the impact of such works becomes apparent in the passion shared by the interviewees. Part of the reason is how he taps into elements audiences find recognizable, be it the strengthened character work before placing them in horrific situations, or the recurrent theme of a darkness lurking beneath the picture perfect façade of small American towns. These moments help solidify how the author is more than just "the horror guy" that some dismiss King as being.

Many interesting stories are shared by the assembled creatives, from Mike Flanagan recounting how reading It became an exercise to make him a bit braver with each chapter, to Frank Darabont sharing how an execution scene was achieved for The Green Mile. While many of the talking heads have something interesting to contribute, the overreliance on white men becomes distracting. As sections focus on how King writes women, gives a voice to characters with disabilities and people of colour, it feels disingenuous how the discussion is only heard through white male voices.

There is a structural issue to how this documentary unfolds, as it leaves a disconnected feeling between the stories by taking an unfocused approach to discussing various adaptations. It's also a shame that more focus was not given to lesser known features like In The Tall Grass or Maximum Overdrive as, while The Shining is undisputedly important, the difference between the book and Stanley Kubrick's adaptation which King disliked is well-worn ground which doesn't need so much time devoted to it. Such time could have been given to King's Dollar Baby program instead, which interestingly allows students and aspiring filmmakers permission to adapt one of the writer's short stories for $1. It is unfortunate because Baiwir's documentary of such a beloved and influential figure feels limiting in its approach.

Stephen King On Screen is available on Digital Platforms now and on Blu-Ray from 18th September