Much like anything that comes from his old man, the work of Joe “Son of Stephen King” Hill gets snapped up for the screen treatment pretty much as the ink dries on the book page. His previous works Horns and Locke & Key have made for some pretty interesting horror-inflected work. His acclaimed novel NOS4A2 – meant to be pronounced like the Vampire – is another adaptation that looks to bring the Hill chill to the screen.
The setup is simple, there is a man who feeds off the souls of little children to sustain his life-force and has done so for centuries, but he faces conflict with a young girl Vic McQueen.
The basic premise allows for a classic good vs evil tale that the lineage of King and clearly his son understand all too well. Here we have a perfectly crafted villain on which to project our childhood fears onto. Zachary Quinto is perfectly cast as the immortal soul sucker Charlie Manx, be he in layers of old-man make-up or stalking around like his usual self he channels that same villainous energy that made him the stand-out in cult series Heroes as Sylar, and as American Horror Story: Asylum’s nasty Dr. Thredson.
The warped aesthetic of his lair, an imaginary Christmasland where sadness is forbidden and the children drained of their souls are stuck in a perpetual yuletide seems like the stuff of a nightmarish Tim Burton story but works because the show takes the time to build up the horror of being trapped there. Manx and Christmasland are both monstrous creations and the show is clearly enamoured with the near relentless terror both can conjure.
Which, to an extent, is an issue. While newcomer Ashleigh Cummings is well cast as Victoria “Vic” McQueen the character is half as compelling as Manx. Vic has the standard issues of anyone endowed with a gift that makes them the only person to stop the evil and the one the evil targets – she’s conflicted but at times hard to relate to. The writing for her doesn’t seem as sure-footed and confident as it does for Manx, and Cummings at times appears unable to inject some agency into her.
The structure of the show is interesting in that it flits between time periods, setting up characters and issues before jumping back to explain who they are and what they want, similarly the concept of a “knife” that allows people to portal into words and see the dark goings-on. All of this works because the cast sells the commitment and the heavy atmosphere that surrounds the series adds to the warped fairytale feel of the whole thing.
It’s confident and layered with human emotion that sells the horror, but at times the back and forth can wear a little thin and the ten episodes seem an episode or two too long, but the mix of genuine horror, a compelling mystery, and a dark underlying theme of childhoods being terrifying to make this a thrilling if uneven ride.
Dir. Kari Skogland, John Shiban, Tim Southam, Jeremy Webb, Hanelle Culpepper, Stefan Schwartz
Cr. Jami O’Brien
Prd. Jami O’Brien, Joe Hill, Shana Fischer Huber, Kari Skogland, Lauren Carrao
Cast. Ashleigh Cummings, Zachary Quinto, Jahkara J. Smith, Olafur Darri Olafsson, Ebon Moss-Bachrach,
Music. Mike Patton
DOP: Martin Ahlgren
Number of Episodes: 10
Episode Runtime: 40 – 56 minutes
Set to arrive on DVD NOS4A2 Season 1 & 2 Complete DVD Box Set comprising of 20 episodes on four discs and on digital 8 March 2021, courtesy of Acorn Media International.