Movies and series are fragile mediums. If even one element in the filmmaking is wrong, the whole project suffers.
Stephen King's eight-part adaptation of his 2006 novel Lisey's Story excels in many areas. Cinematographer Darius Khondji (Uncut Gems, Seven) creates dark and unforgettable visuals that look like surrealist paintings. The immersive central performances from Julianne Moore and Clive Owen have sparks of love and terror. And, for the most part, the overwhelming direction from Chilean filmmaker Pablo Larraín (Spencer, Jackie) paints a curiously crazy experience.
But unfortunately, the disappointment in this long, winding and often repetitive fantasy drama lies in the story. The most important element of all.
King is a culture-unto-himself, being one of modern literature’s best-known authors. His screenwriting credits are significantly less impressive and Lisey’s Story (one of his personal favourites) only continues that lukewarm streak, although it fizzles with enough intrigue. Just about.
Lisey (Moore) is grieving over the death of her husband Scott (Owen), a mega-famous horror fiction writer (sound familiar?). His fame, even post-mortem, attracts the best and worst in humanity. Naturally, King's only interested in the latter.
Enter Dane DeHaan (ZeroZeroZero), playing the obsessive fan Jim Dooley. Dooley gets wind that Lisey is keeping Scott’s unpublished manuscripts. She refuses to hand them over to the desperate academic Dashiel (Ron Cephas Jones), and he defers to Dooley to get those precious papers. As such, the awkward and hateful fanboy becomes a threat: armed with a yo-yo and a pizza wheel.
Dane DeHaan as obsessive fan Jim Dooley. Photo: Apple
King has dealt with violent fans before, famously in Misery. But there’s a deeper reality to Dooley; he's clearly an incel of sorts. He feels more true to life now than when the book was written in 2006. He is, by far, the most gripping aspect of the series.
The rest is, well, exceedingly bizarre – crossing through memories, traumas, and even dimensions in a baffling structure that circles back and forward. Despite the series being more accessible than the book, which often takes an indulgent stream-of-consciousness style, your brain feels stretched and squashed in the process. And to no satisfying purpose.
This might've been more respectable and engaging if the abstract were maintained. The series upholds a regular dreamscape, warping to a deathly island with a nightmare monster roaming around. But after a few episodes, that absorbing, experimental atmosphere – grazing the Lynchian – is abandoned for silly fantasy logic.
Julianne Moore and Clive Owen as Lisey and Scott Landon. Photo: Apple
It’s also dispiriting that, despite being Lisey’s Story, most of her existence revolves around her husband. She has sisters: a paranoid self-harmer (Joan Allen) and a thinly drawn cynic (Jennifer Jason Leigh). They have a few scenes together, their sibling love and rivalry offering some small pockets of comedy. But their backgrounds are barely explained. The detailed focus on Scott becomes a lost opportunity.
Watching Lisey’s Story mirrors the experience of the equally baffling but ultimately inferior Netflix series Behind Her Eyes. At least King signposts the madness, but during every episode, you’re still just waiting for something stranger to happen. This can be a fun preoccupation, but it's tiring by the end.
Lisey's Story is available on Apple TV+ from Friday 4 June.
|What||Lisey's Story, Apple TV+ review|
04 Jun 21 – 04 Jun 22, ON APPLE TV+
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