I’ve seen many far worse Stephen King TV adaptations—Spike’s The Mist, Syfy’s Haven, ABC’s The Tommyknockers are among those that come immediately to mind—but few as ponderously sluggish as Chaplewaite, a 10-part horror series based on (get this) a short story. The source material, “Jerusalem’s Lot” from King’s classic first story collection Night Shift, unfolds in largely epistolary form through letters and diary entries. The grim, glum and unyieldingly gray Chapelwaite, alas, is nothing to write home about.
Brevity is not one of Chapelwaite’s virtues, but if you stick with it, you will be treated to some creepily graphic images, because the supernatural menaces of this story aren’t easy to kill. They do take their time revealing themselves, however, as the opening episodes introduce tormented sea captain Charles Boone (Adrien Brody emoting in a whispery rasp), a recent widower bringing his three sullen children to live in the title Maine manor that he inherited after a family tragedy.
Chapelwaite and its inhabitants are reviled by the nearby village of Preacher’s Corners, where the hostile citizens are nearly as wooden as the 19th-century structures. They blame the Boones, past and present, for a mysterious illness that has been plaguing the locals. Symptoms of said malady include bite marks on the neck and an aversion to sunlight (such as it is in monochromatic Nova Scotia). Whatever could it be?
Turns out vampirism is a new concept to these folks. Not so much to anyone tuning in, who might be chagrined to learn there isn’t even a flash of fangs until late in the fourth episode. Until then, you might think this was just another haunted-house story, with the requisite creepy cellar and unsettling noises within the walls. Charles worries he’s afflicted with a congenital madness, and when he hallucinates his bath as a grave filled with dirt and worms, he has a point.
Eventually, he discovers his ailment is the manifestation of a family curse involving the undead, who could be unleashed by an elusive ancient tome whose Latin title translates to “Mysteries of the Worm.” (Let’s just be honest that exposition is not this show’s friend.)
As Charles and his beleaguered family gear up for a war against the forces of evil biding their time in the deserted mining town of Jerusalem’s Lot, their human army is few: a disgraced man of the cloth, a distracted man of the law, and a woman of letters, Rebecca Morgan, a would-be writer primly played by Schitt’s Creek‘s Emily Hampshire. Rebecca endears herself to the Boones as a governess, but she’s really gathering material for an assignment from Atlantic Monthly, though what we witness of her purple prose seems better suited to a penny dreadful (coincidentally, the title of a far superior Showtime series).
Naturally, as the screws of the plot turn agonizingly slowly, Rebecca falls for the children and their soft-talking father, and when the siege of Chapelwaite occurs, there are surprises and genuine scares. But dramatically, Chapelwaite falls mostly flat, characterized by Brody’s pained performance which oddly gets quieter during moments of peril when most of us might scream.
Caution: Yawning ahead.
Chapelwaite, Series Premiere, Sunday, August 22, 10/9c, Epix