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Lisa “Lisey” Landon is the widow of famous novelist Scott Landon, who died two years earlier. She’s still grieving his loss when a deranged fan starts stalking her in an attempt to get her husband’s unpublished writing. In order to stop him–and come to terms with who she was with Scott and who she is without him–Lisey has to enter the dangerous and fantastical world of Boo’ya Moon, where Scott used to go to escape his painful childhood, and also dive deep into difficult memories of her own.
The limited series is written entirely by Stephen King, who adapts his own 2006 novel of the same name. It’s the first high-end streaming limited series the horror master has written himself, and his first solo limited series effort since 2002’s Rose Red. Jackie’s Pablo Larraín directs every episode. J.J. Abrams executive produces.
Children of Men stars Julianne Moore and Clive Owen reunite as Lisey and Scott. Jennifer Jason Leigh and Joan Allen play Lisey’s sisters Darla and Amanda, who each have their own important role in Lisey’s story, especially Amanda, who suffers from the same mental affliction as Scott. ZeroZeroZero’s Dane DeHaan plays the terrifying superfan Jim Dooley.
Lisey’s Story has gotten mediocre reviews. It has a 55% score on Rotten Tomatoes, which qualifies it as “Rotten.” This is absurd. I am here to say that everyone who gave it a bad review is wrong.
Okay, let me moderate that a little bit. Lisey’s Story isn’t perfect; it has some pacing problems and an anticlimactic ending (don’t say I didn’t warn you), and it’s confusing that Moore and Owen are playing characters over the course of decades but always look like they’re in their 50s. But dinging it too heavily for a few draggy scenes overlooks the dreaminess and haunting beauty that makes Lisey’s Story so special.
Lisey’s Story is hard to classify. It’s a hybrid psychological horror/character drama/romance/fantasy/thriller. But that difficulty of categorization makes it one of Stephen King’s most personal and enigmatic works. He’s working with vocabulary and symbolism that are completely of his own creation. You probably won’t fully understand what a “bool” is even after completing the series, but you may not really want to, either, because its power is in its strangeness. The descriptor “Lynchian” gets overused to describe anything that’s a little weird, but Lisey’s Story is actually similar to the work of David Lynch in that it’s a work of idiosyncratic vision from a great artist who doesn’t feel the need to over-explain his imagery.
King’s imagination is vividly realized by director Pablo Larraín, who does really extraordinary work here. The mysterious Boo’ya Moon, with its supernatural flora, shrouded figures, and terrifying monster called the Long Boy, is simultaneously gorgeous and menacing, and even the real-world scenes have a magical tint to them. (The series is shot by one of the world’s greatest cinematographers, Darius Khondji, who has worked on Se7en, Uncut Gems, and Too Old to Die Young, another mesmerizing and misunderstood limited series.) Larraín makes the horror viscerally upsetting–you’ll never look at a pizza cutter the same after this–and the drama intimate and touching.
The performances are all great, but particular praise is due to Dane DeHaan, who is absolutely terrifying as a fan who thinks his love of Scott Landon’s books gives him more of a right to Landon’s memory (and unpublished work) than Lisey, his wife. Tom Dooley’s disturbed, misogynistic superfandom makes Annie Wilkes from Misery look well-adjusted. DeHaan has a boyish face that’s aging into something unique, and Larraín shoots him in a way that makes him look 17 and 45 at the same time.
Lisey’s Story is an enchanting, frightening tale of magic and memory that’s in the upper echelon of Stephen King adaptations, whether we’re talking about the ongoing post-IT wave or ever. You will get lost in its immersive world and feel sorry to leave when it’s time to go.
The show is very violent and disturbing, so make sure the kids are asleep before you put it on. I wouldn’t watch it with anyone overly squeamish or who needs everything to make sense. But if your partner is a fan of Stephen King or prestige horror in general, which it with them.