EJ Moreno reviews Lisey’s Story…
Sometimes entering the mind of Stephen King can feel like a daunting task. Anyone who has read one of his novels will understand that his work can be as dense as much as it is terrifying. Now imagine his work ripped straight for his mind and brought to the screen. And no, I’m not talking about Maximum Overdrive.
King’s latest adaptation is a mini-series based on Lisey’s Story, and the author penned every episode. If you’ve ever wanted pure, uncut, unfiltered Stephen King, this is it. For better and worse, Apple TV+’s new series Lisey’s Story is 100% Stephen King insanity.
Director Pablo Larraín does his best to leave his mark, and he does with the show’s stunning overall visual aesthetic. It’s just hard to hear his cinematic voice in the story when King is such a presence. But when these two do link up, it’s some of the most exceptional television work. Every time they attempt to do something scary, it feels that way. The heartfelt moments pack the emotions it needs. Just sometimes, you have to stop and collect your notes on what exactly is happening.
Julianne Moore stars as the titular Lisey, a woman facing painful memories involving her late husband. Scott, played by Clive Owen but lacking his usual charm, was a writer that used his work to talk about his problemed past. Part of his upbringing was traveling to the Boo’ya Moon, a magical realm where Lisey’s sister Amanda currently resides. See where I said this gets a bit Stephen King trippy?
Yes, Moore is the show’s centerpiece, but it feels like she only shines in fleeting moments. Overall, her performance as the grieving and complex Lisey is strong, but those genuine “wow” moments only come every so often. The supporting cast does their best, all playing a very detailed character that needed more explaining almost instantly. Somehow, both Pablo Larraín and Stephen King would craft a character that’s so unusual that you immediately want more details from their first moment.
Dane DeHaan is the best example of that, adding his usually odd sensibility to blend in perfectly with this universe. His work here furthers my feelings; he’s one of the best at “creepy” working today, and let’s hope there more Stephen King work for him in the future. DeHaan’s Jim is a superfan of Clive Owen’s Scott and gets enlisted by a college professor (Ron Cephas Jones) to harass Lisey into releasing more of Scott’s work.
Moore is jumping around to many intense moments, from dealing with Jim to handling her sister’s catatonic state. Her other sister Darla, played by Jennifer Jason Leigh, is seemingly an outsider to all this madness and plays into us feeling as lost as her character. What I enjoy about Julianne Moore is how she handles all of this, but there are moments where her character gets to show her humor or passion that feel the best.
Yes, this is a thrilling story with some surreal and horror elements, but the marriage drama happens to be my favorite part. It works the best in the Lisey’s Story novel, and those elements play into Pablo Larraín’s strengths. Larraín’s Jackie showed how he could work with an odd frame narrative and emotionally heavy moments, and that’s why those shine the most with this series. But it goes back to King’s compelling writing as well; both are working hand-in-hand perfectly in these moments.
Apple TV+ does well when it produces these glossy, strange series, and it’s starting to feel like the best home for shows like Lisey’s Story. Pair this with M. Night Shyamalan’s series Servant, and you’ll see some of the most bizarre yet compelling television work.
Lisey’s Story is unlike anything out right now, even other adaptations of King’s work, but that’s why it works. Even when it stumbles, the series picks itself up by the end and finishes on a solid note. Just prepare to have some questions unanswered by the end, but some feel the best art is meant to puzzle you. This show certainly is puzzling, but it’s also a fascinating experience.
Lisey’s Story will premiere globally on Friday June 4th, with new episodes premiering weekly on Friday thereafter, exclusively on Apple TV+.