The track record for recent adaptations of epic horror novels (e.g. The Passage, The Terror) has been spotty, which led me to approach the AMC TV-series version of Joe Hill’s NOS4A2 with some caution. After three episodes, though, the show has alleviated my concerns.
What I had feared most going in was that Zachary Quinto had been miscast as Yuletide ghoul Charlie Manx. I envisioned a variation on his role (as a snarky ghost) in the inaugural season of American Horror Story. Thankfully, I was dead wrong; thus far Quinto has been magnificent. His performance is at once understated and menacing. His old-age make-up is extraordinary (it reminds me of the aging of Barnabas Collins in Dark Shadows), transforming him into one creepy geezer. Most importantly, Quinto does not play the character as a mustache-twirling villain. The audience might see through the predatorial Manx’s delusions of being a rescuer of neglected children and deliverer of perennial holiday joy, but Quinto at least makes us believe that Manx actually believes his cause is an honorable one.
Some critics have complained that the series gets off to a slow start, but I appreciate the fact that NOS4A2 is taking its time to unspool its story thread. A sincere effort here is made to establish the main cast of characters as identifiable people. As a viewer, I can easily invest in protagonist Vic McQueen and the conflicts she is facing on levels both mundane (the family drama of her parents’ separation) and supernatural (her newfound powers as a Strong Creative, which set the uncannily talented Manx sniffing after her). In its deliberate pacing, NOS4A2 seems to parallel another AMC horror series, The Walking Dead; hopefully, the eventual payoff will prove just as emotionally powerful as that of a typical TWD story arc.
If there is one aspect of the series I am not enjoying, it is Vic’s interaction with her teenage peers. These characters–most of whom don’t originate from Hill’s novel–just aren’t that interesting, and come across as annoying (Willa) or bland (Drew). Such drastic deviations from the source text are precisely where adaptations start to lose me. I bristle at the hubris of screenwriters determined to alter the blueprint for a proven product.
NOS4A2 isn’t flawless, but has captivated me thus far. I’m eager to ride along with the Wraith, and look forward to when the scene finally shifts to Manx’s vampiric theme park, Christmasland (this sinister inscape will probably go a long way toward determining the success of this series as a horror vehicle).
One last note: perhaps the most delightful gift of all shipped from Christmasland is Joe Hill’s weekly email recaps of NOS4A2‘s episodes. Hill provides commentary on what just aired the night before, interviews those involved in the series, and offers deeper insight into his own novel (e.g. this past week, he discusses the three inspirations for his creation of Christmasland). Terrific stuff, adding another element of fun to watching the series. Be sure to sign up for the recap newsletter here.