Needful Things is based on Stephen King’s novel of the same name, published in 1991. It is the first novel Stephen King wrote after his rehabilitation from drug and alcohol addictions. The adaptation was directed by Fraser C. Heston (the son of Charlton Heston) and stars Max Von Sydow and Ed Harris.
Leland Gaunt, having recently moved to the small town of Castle Rock, is the owner of the “Needful Things” shop. The peculiar shopkeeper seems to have anything your heart desires but the price to pay is as strange as the man selling the items : a small amount of money and a deed (more specifically, a prank to be played on other town folks). It doesn’t take long for the simple pranks to take a deadly turn as everyone in town is slowly destroying each other.
Needful Things is mostly receiving negative reviews, which I completely disagree with. While not being in the top Stephen King adaptations such as Misery or Stand By Me, it is still a very good film. Some critics disliked the film because they found it not funny, not scary and depressing. Well, I would argue that the film doesn’t try to be funny, doesn’t pretend to be scary and is intended to be a bit depressing.
The highlight of the film is evidently Max Von Sydow as The Devil (no spoilers, it is pretty clear from the beginning who the character truly is). I especially enjoyed his performance because of his mystical aura. There is also a heavy Vincent Price vibe in his portrayal of the strange shopkeeper. Ed Harris also gives a great performance as the reluctant hero and the supporting cast helps create a good ensemble to carry the story.
Stephen King readers are familiar with the writer’s tendency to set his stories in small town. And this one takes place in the most famous one of them all, featured in numerous of King’s work : Castle Rock. Heston did a very good job at creating the small town look and feel.
One might assume that a story involving the devil should have a grand scale but the strength of the film is taking the opposite route and depicting the influence of evil on the lives of normal people. After all, Leland Gaunt never does anything directly to hurt people, he simply gives them a nudge and human nature does the rest. It truly shows how everyone has violent tendencies buried inside and sometimes, it doesn’t take much for them to come out.
Critics have argued that it seemed rather pointless for the devil to waste time in a small town when it is made clear that he was no stranger to catastrophes such as WW2. Personally, I viewed his stay in Castle Rock as a recreation for him : between two major disasters, he attempts to destroy small towns to entertain himself.
Needful Things may pale in comparison to films like The Shining or The Shawshank Redemption but it is indeed one of the better Stephen King adaptations. It is a well-crafted film with great performances and an interesting story. The two-hour runtime flies by so do yourself a favor and watch Needful Things !