Chapelwaite review – a wife blasting off her husband’s head is the only thrill in this Stephen King bore
When – oh when – will people in the 19th-century US of A learn to beware of cousins leaving them posthumous gifts of prime real estate in puritanical corners of the country? No good ever comes of it.
As so many of them are, the latest to suffer are the product of horror master Stephen King’s imagination. His short, slight story Jerusalem’s Lot, first published in the 1978 collection Night Shift, has been adapted – somehow – into a 10-hour television series. It is called Chapelwaite (Paramount+) and stars Adrien Brody, a lot of recordings of whippoorwills, and some worms.
Brody plays Charles Boone, the recently widowed captain of a whaling ship who returns to land with his three grieving children when his cousin Stephen dies. His cousin has left him the rambling ancestral home, Chapelwaite, and the fortune-building family sawmill, just an hour’s carriage ride from the unbustling town of Preacher’s Corner, in King’s favourite location of Maine, New England.
But what is this? The house is full of portents? The portrait of Charles’s father has been ripped from its frame. The housekeeper Mrs Cloris (Gabrielle Rose) is unwilling to stay on. The whippoorwills in the woods are seen in daytime (this is Not Good, according to Preacher’s Corner lore). Mysterious sounds emanate from the walls. It’s rats at best. And the cellar where the daughter of the house fell down the stairs and died (thus precipitating her father Stephen’s suicide) contains a bloodstained floor, a ceilingful of worms and a bathtub with leather shackles.
Instead of calling the nearest estate agent and pricing it to sell, Charles decides this is the perfect place to raise his traumatised children. He cleaves to this belief despite mounting evidence to the contrary. The sawmill workers are lazy and mutinous, save Abel Stewart (Devante Senior). No one applies for the post of governess to the children. The minister’s father refuses to let them attend church. The local constable declines to investigate the vandalism to the house that occurred after Stephen died.
Partly, this is due to racism – the children’s mother was Japanese – and partly because the Boones have been a blot on the Maine landscape for several generations and the town hoped the line had ended with the deaths of Stephen and his daughter. The family sawmill was also where two people fell ill with the mysterious sickness that is now spreading through the town.
I think that’s everything. Oh, no – wait. Feisty local feminist, college graduate and woman with a pressing deadline to file a short story with the Atlantic Monthly Rebecca Morgan (Schitt’s Creek’s Emily Hampshire) becomes the children’s governess. The Boones, she notes to her fretting mother – who did not push the bounds of social acceptability by sending her daughter to college for THIS, young lady – are the best story in town. And that’s before the disgruntled sawmill employee who sets off to burn Chapelwaite to the ground one night is stopped and immolated by a shadowy figure with a shovel. Wait till the Atlantic Monthly hears about that!
It’s … fine. Brody is all furrowed brow and pained rasp as the beleaguered Charles and Hampshire has little to do but yomp about energetically in an attractive yet practical gown. The only genuine horror comes at the very top of the show when we see young Charles’s mother blast the head off his maddened father after he has half-killed his son and is attempting to bury him in a shallow grave. For the rest of the hour, Chapelwaite gets by on atmospherics alone. No previews were made available to UK reviewers (generally a bad sign when something is already available across the pond), so I’ve only seen a single episode. If the suspense and action ratchet up and we see a bit of character development, it might not be quite the slog (10 hours of atmospherics would be a lot) the opening hour suggests. Reports from over said pond, however, do not augur well.
On the other hand, if you like your horror gentle, or are more interested in Lincoln-era, small-town-to-rural New England life than you are in what a ceilingful of worms or an anaemic-looking wandering child patient could foretell, then this might just hit the spot. But it doesn’t threaten to do much damage to the shibboleth that King adaptations for television never really work.