Adapting Stephen King‘s work is no easy feat. There is living up to the sheer chaos that is fan expectation. There’s also the added pressure, in particular with his shorter works, to expand and lengthen it to introduce new things. This can go one of two ways. Completely south or, somehow, working surprisingly well. With Epix’s CHAPELWAITE, the team aimed to adapt and expand upon King’s “Jerusalem’s Lot“, a short story that can be found in his 1978 collection, Night Shift. The series’ story itself fares well, with the added expansions and developments creating something both relatable and horrific. Unfortunately, the uneven performances and slowburn approach for the first half of the season does more harm than good for the overall impact the show could have on the viewer.
Set in the 1850s, viewers are introduced to the currently living Boone descendants Captain Charles Boone (Adrien Brody) inherits his cousin’s ancestral home located in Preacher’s Corners, Maine. After his wife dies at sea, he relocates his three children to the sleepy town, where he is greeted with hostility by the townsfolk early on. The Boones, as viewers will discover, have a sordid history with the town, with all descendants eventually being gripped by the madness their bloodline carries. However, as Charles and his family will soon discover, the legacy is far darker than any of them would ever imagine. And the family’s arrival brings that darkness to the surface, inching closer to unleashing something only the living Boones can access.
As viewers get to know the Boones, they too will get to know Emily Hampshire’s Rebecca Morgan. An ambitious young woman who left Preacher’s Corners to attend Mount Holyoke College, Rebecca is stuck in a deep writer’s block and looking down the end of a barrel via deadlines. She’s already been given an advance to write a story for a prestigious magazine. It isn’t until the Boones move into Chapelwaite that she realizes what she can write about. While her mother deeply protests her even thinking about working for the Boones (locals, of course, hate the family), Rebecca goes and applies to be the children’s governess. With no other takers, Captain Charles Boone’s hands are tied. Rebecca uses the opportunity to write about the family but, in the process, she learns more about herself, a mystery that has plagued her own family for years, and may actually be able to craft her best writing work ever.
The series, which makes up ten roughly one-hour-long episodes, is an ambitious one from the get-go. Taking a short story and lengthening it over the course of ten hours is a difficult challenge. Throw in the slowburn typically felt in recent takes of the Gothic genre, and it highlights the monumental task this team has set for themselves. However, storywise, Peter Filardi and Jason Filardi take the base of what Stephen King wrote and do a decent job expanding on the mythos already established and keeping it fresh. They’ve tweaked the story of Captain Charles Boone in a way that lends itself to landing better with the modern viewer. Building on that, the added element of otherness by way of race seen with Boone’s children adds a layer. It’s not the primary focus, but is noticeable enough to provide some food for thought for viewers long after the series ends.
There is an issue with pacing that I wonder if a shorter episode order could have helped with. The first half of the season takes a while to warm up pacing and storywise. In an age with so many viewing options, this pacing issue will be a detriment for certain viewers unwilling to hold out. However, once we get to that midway point of the season, things start to ramp up. If the viewers are invested enough with the characters up to this point, CHAPELWAITE will continue to hold their attention. However, that is a huge if considering the most glaring detriment the series has – Adrian Brody.
Now, for fans of Adrian Brody, I apologize. Personally, I always want the best for all creatives involved. That said, throughout the entirety of CHAPELWAITE, Brody’s performance reads as if he was given an entirely different assignment compared to the rest of the cast. While the bulk of the cast delivers more grounded performances, Brody’s reaches into the overacting realm from the beginning. It makes it all the more difficult to believe his character’s descent into madness as there is no real room for his performance to grow. Whether or not connected, his chemistry with his fellow actors is barely there, which becomes too difficult to ignore in the scenes with Boone and his children as well as the scenes with Boone and Rebecca. This becomes all the more painful when viewers realize that Boone and Rebecca were meant to have feelings by the end of CHAPELWAITE. It’s rendered painfully forced in part due to the lack of chemistry and uneven performances delivered by Brody and Emily Hampshire respectfully.
While the leads falter in their performances, viewers may find themselves more interested in the side characters they’ll meet along the way during CHAPELWAITE. Gorn Rand’s Martin Burroughs provides a dose of light and grace in Preacher’s Corners for the Boone family. However, his arc strips away the vestiges of his position and reveals the flawed man underneath, and Rand delivers it smoothly. Hugh Thompson’s George Tennison also provides a level head, which contrasts significantly with the rest of the townsfolk. His arc is heartbreaking, yet could have easily been overplayed. The beats Thompson hits are well served, especially when he’s with his scene partner, Trina Corkum, who plays Mary Dennison. Steven McCarthy and Julian Richings portray Stephen Boone and Phillip Boone, with both capturing different facets of villainy. This is a compliment, but McCarthy’s take on Stephen will most likely make viewers want to reach through the screen to punch the character. So wonderfully he encapsulates the smarminess and manipulation that the character requires. To round things out, Christopher Heyerdahl is perfectly eerie as Jakub, and I would not change a thing.
Much of CHAPELWAITE‘s success also hinges on the production design and overall atmosphere set by the below the line departments. Mark Corven’s score serves itself well, utilized to perfection in the most tension-ridden moments and heightening the mood when required. The sound design too is used well and, to be frank, provides more tension at times than what character reactions onscreen would convey. Matt Likely’s work on production design warrants a chef’s kiss. For how much focus there is on the Chapelwaite home, it needed to lend itself that air of mystery and darkness. In capturing the tone of the ancestral home, the foreboding desecrated nature of Jerusalem’s Lot, and the more vibrant, living energy that Preacher’s Corners has, the hard work shines onscreen. The set decoration by Brian Enman brings the set designs all together, giving that necessary lived-in quality that a project like this requires.
The costume and makeup department deserve their own accolades. Costume Designers Lorna Marie Mugan and Rachel Grant do well capturing the time period’s essence with their costumes. Particular care seems to be taken with the Boone children’s clothes, with a fusion of nods from their time at sea. This is most apparent with Loa’s (Sirena Gulamgaus) attire throughout the season. The cool blues and worn-down nature of the clothing viewers see featured in Jerusalem’s Lot also highlight the disconnect between the cult-like group and the townspeople. Each clothing item tells a story of the characters, and these two designers convey that well. As for the makeup team, their work shines through brightly with Jakub and his group of cultists. The vampiric design alone shows the clear connection between this property and Salem’s Lot, which will be a highlight for many King fans. The makeup applied to Heyerdahl for Jakub is a mixer of a familiar Nosferatu design and, quite literally, what I imagine Death incarnate to look like. Well done.
Overall, CHAPELWAITE left me personally feel mixed. The scale of the project is ambitious and, for the most part, the elements are there to make it succeed. However, despite the approach taken with the story and the effort invested in the below the line departments that make up the world viewers see onscreen, the weight of the project sinks under Adrian Brody’s over-the-top performance. Emily Hampshire’s performance fares better, but not by much. As the two main focal points for viewers to focus on in CHAPELWAITE, viewers will be hard-pressed not to stray away. Lacking the magnetism and chemistry to make the characters work off the page, it will be difficult for viewers to stay invested. This and the slowburn pacing that occupies the first half of the show make me believe the series missed the mark on this one.
CHAPELWAITE will premiere exclusively on EPIX on August 22, 2021, at 10 PM ET/PT.
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