Cujo (1983)

(On TV, October 2017) While Cujo is not a bad movie in itself, it’s frustrating in that it misses being a much better movie by inches. The central conceit of the film is simple enough: a mom and her ailing son, trapped in a dilapidated car in the middle of nowhere by a rabid dog ready to tear them apart. It’s a powerful claustrophobic conceit, and recent movies such as Vehicle 19, Buried or Locke show that it’s possible to tell a full story under severe location restraints. But Cujo, coming from 1983, is too traditional to think about locking characters in a single location for 90 minutes: adapting Stephen King’s book as conventionally as possible, much of the film’s first half feels like one big prologue as we’re laboriously introduced to the characters, the setting, the situation and the dog. Anyone who knows anything about the film’s premise can be forgiven from feeling as if this is all a waste of time. It’s when all the elements are finally assembled and the action becomes constrained to the car (not air-conditioned, in heat-wave conditions) that the film finally clicks into higher gear. A good just-this-side-of-hysteria performance from Dee Wallace helps, even when the film does push things a bit too far during its overwrought climax. But much of it feels too little too late. While Cujo definitely remains watchable, it does feel half-hearted from today’s perspective.

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