“There’s a whole world out there. You let fear dictate your life, you’ll miss it.”
Following in the footsteps of his father Stephen King, Joe Hill has made a name for himself as one of the most revered writers today in the horror genre. Also like his father, Hill’s stories have begun the road to adaptations, first on the big screen (2013’s Horns) and now for television with this week’s premiere of NOS4A2.
The story is set in the town of Haverhill, MA where high school senior-to-be Vic McQueen (Ashleigh Cummings, Westside, Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries) navigates the typical teen hurdles of isolation and insecurity while also dealing with her own familial dysfunction.
Her father Chris (Ebon Moss-Bachrach, The Punisher, Girls, John Adams) is as supportive as he can be to Vic and she worships her dad, but that is tarnished when she finds out he’s hit her mother Linda (Virginia Kull, Big Little Lies, The Looming Tower). The mounting tension in the home leads Vic to seek asylum in the woods, where she comes across an antiquated covered bridge. Only this bridge does not exist as it was demolished nearly two decades ago.
More disconcerting though is not the fact that Vic is seeing something that no longer exists but the funky vibes emitted by the structure that seemingly leads Vic to the exact place she needs to go at that time. It’s the teen’s first step into the supernatural, a world she has no clue to reconcile with the realities of her once-normal, if not chaotic life.
But Vic isn’t the only young woman with her hand in the supernatural. The other is Maggie Leigh from Here, Iowa, where the beginnings of this particular part of the story begins. She comes across a crime scene that finds a boy—Danny Moore—taken and his mom and her boyfriend murdered. The show wastes no time displaying Maggie’s special gifts; the ability to reach inhumanly far into a bag of Scrabble tiles that giver Maggie clues to her specific question. When she seeks Danny’s whereabouts, ‘The Wraith’ gives her a starting point; if they can find this Rolls-Royce Wraith, they can find Danny.
And this is where the story’s villain comes into play. Charlie Manx (Zachary Quinto, Star Trek, Heroes, American Horror Story) is an elderly old man who, for some time, has been taking young children and dropping them off at Christmasland, a place “where every day is Christmas Day and happiness is against the law”. Unfortunately for these kids, Manx is turning them (if Danny’s transformation is the norm) into something horrific, all the while regaining aspects of his youth in the process.
Worse still is that Vic—whether by her burgeoning psychic powers, the mysterious bridge, or both—makes a connection with Manx, one that points the creepy antagonist to Haverhill, Massachusetts. But Vic won’t be alone when Manx comes to town as Maggie, thanks to her Scrabble bag, is told to find ‘The Brat’, who is none other than Vic McQueen.
It’s never fair to judge a series solely based on its pilot episode. If that was the case, NOS4A2 would be graded middling at best. “The Shorter Way” does flesh out a compelling character in Vic McQueen—there’s something magnetic about her story—but everything else is rendered in broad strokes. Even Maggie, whose mysterious Scrabble bag will be vital as the story unfolds, is but an outline of a character. The mystery surrounding Manx though is understandable, considering his role as the antagonist but still, there are so many things thrown out in the premiere, things that will obviously pay dividends as the season progresses yet, taken on its face, “The Shorter Way” is a jumbled flash of images and circumstances that, once paired with future episodes, hopefully completes a wondrous tapestry. On its own though, it’s quite the forgettable premiere but offers the seeds of promise for the series as a whole.
Take Me Home, Country Road
- One of the more jarring aspects of NOS4A2 is its uneven cinematography. I’m not sure if this was a conscious decision, to offer up the detachment from reality Vic feels as she taps into an unknown force or not (granted, it’s an effective tool in these instances) but all too often it comes across as rushed, almost amateurish, as if there was no cohesive direction on how to shoot the episode.
- I can’t say enough about Vic’s character. Cummings is extremely impressive, expressing a vulnerability and strength of a young woman caught in a home filled with tension. Her finding out that her father is a very flawed man, one who beats his wife and eventually leaves Vic and her mother for a younger woman, is heartbreaking, one many kids must go through when they realize their parents are these all-knowing gods, but flesh and blood humans, prone to just as many mistakes as anyone else. Not only that but, even with her best friend Willa, Vic comes across as someone who doesn’t quite belong. As a high school student, surrounded by chaos and the prospect of following in the footsteps of a parent she does not admire, it is a very difficult position to be on. Now, with the onset of these inexplicable powers, Vic has one more thing to worry about and all that’s before Manx comes to town.
- Though at times a bit stiff, Quinto’s Manx is absolutely a creepy, creepy character. Whether this is because of his true nature, the vile targeting of innocent children, or both, that’s up for debate. What isn’t though is his monstrous designs on these kids and whether he has a purpose that goes beyond fostering his own existence.