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[KING'S CORNER] Chapelwaite (2021)

Chapelwaite - King's Corner Review


Welcome to King's Corner. A recurring series of reviews based on the Film and TV adaptations of Stephen King's novels, reviewed and released in order of the original source material publishing date.


Director: David Frazee, Rachel Leiterman, Michael Nankin, Jeff Renfroe, Burr Steers

Starring: Adrien Brody, Emily Hampshire, Jennifer Ens, Hugh Thompson, Sirena Gulamgaus


Written by: Jason Filardi, Peter Filardi, Scott Kosar, Declan De Barra

Produced by: Michael Mahoney

Cinematography by: Miroslaw Baszak, David Greene

Original Score by: Mark Korven


Synopsis:

In the 1850s, Captain Charles Boone relocates his family to his ancestral home in the small, sleepy town of Preacher's Corners. Charles will soon have to confront the secrets of his family's history and fight to end the darkness.


Chapelwaite Review

Thoughts:

The eldritch spectre of H.P. Lovecraft has always managed to pop up throughout Stephen King's literary career. Be it through the inter dimensional creatures of 'The Mist' or what awaits at the end of 'Revival', there is no denying the impact the writer, famous for defining cosmic horror, has had on King's work. King himself has openly acknowledged this in a 1995 article in American Heritage saying, "Lovecraft... opened the way for me, as he had done for others before me.... it is his shadow, so long and gaunt, and his eyes, so dark and puritanical, which overlie almost all of the important horror fiction that has come since." One such example of Lovecraft's influence can be found in his short story 'Jerusalem's Lot'. 



The first story from his short story collection, 'Night Shift', 'Jerusalem's Lot' is a gothic horror tale told in an epistolary manner. Set in the 1850's it follows Charle's Boone and his manservant, Calvin McCann who have taken up residence in Chapelwaite outside the small town of Preacher's Corner in Maine. They soon find out the house is cursed and this curse is tied to the nearby deserted village of Jerusalem's Lot where many terrible things have taken place. King wrote the story whilst he was a student at the University of Maine and many years later he realised that it made for a great prologue to what would become his 1975 novel, 'Salem's Lot'


In late 2019 the television show was well underway in its development when streaming service Epix ordered not just a pilot but a 10 episode series with Peter and Jason Filardi acting as chief writers and executive producers for the show. Ironically Peter Filardi had already worked in King's wheelhouse having written the script for the 2004 television adaptation of 'Salem's Lot'. Soon after the Filardi brothers were announced as showrunners, Adrien Brody was signed up to play the lead. Whilst filming was thwarted by the COVID-19 pandemic it was able to commence in late August 2020 in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. Roughly a year later it was completed and released. 


Adrien Brody in Chapelwaite

The first thing that strikes about the show is the nihilistic mood and tone, conveyed perfectly in the prologue of the first episode, which is a flashback to a dark chapter from Charles' childhood. In the scene, Charles' father is on a rampage mummering about "blood for blood" and the coming of the worm. His hulking frame stalks the family home in search of Charles and culminates with him trying to bury his son alive only to be killed before it is too late. It is dark, creepy and pulls no punches which is a constant throughout the entire show which feels light one step into the light and two steps back into darkness. 


From here the show moves forward in time to Charles as an adult played by Adrien Brody. He is captain of a whaling ship and is burying his wife at sea alongside his children Honor (played by Jennifer Ens), Loa (played by Sirena Gulamgaus) and Tane (played Tane Boone). After this Charles decides to give his children a new life by taking up residence at the family home in Chapelwaite outside the small town of Preacher's Corners in Maine. It is a place with a grim history that stirs the demons of Charles' past that dwell within him. 



As Charles Boone, Adrien Brody is simply brilliant as he treats the role with the utmost reverence that some of his peers of similar prestige would turn their nose up at. From the first frame he appears on camera you can see how beleaguered and haunted Charles is as his attempt to move on from one tragedy leads him back to the horrors of his childhood. In the face of the shunning from the town of Preacher's Corner both in their fear of his family name and the racism they subject his children to he maintains a sense of dignity until he is pushed to the brink. The weight of the past and present is released through his gravelly voice as he struggles to create a new life for his children in the face of the real world and supernatural horrors. This hardship manifests into paranoia to the point where Charles loses his mind and Brody really commits to these moments in the show when he tears up the walls of the house or is locked into his worm infested visions. In one scene that acts like a homage to the mirror scene in 'Poltergeist', Charles has a nightmare where worms are burrowing in his face leading him to cutting them out of his nose with a razor. In several promotional interviews he has stated that he had a live worm up his nose for the scene. Ultimately he is a victim of intergenerational trauma bound by the fate of his family name. No matter what he tries to do to change this, there is no escaping it and that is the key to why Brody's performance works. He acts like he is constantly aware of this but it is the slightest glimmer of hope and optimism that makes him allow you to latch onto him as a character. 



One of the few people in Preacher's Corner that show the Boone family any sort of kindness is aspiring writer Rebecca Morgan (Emily Hampshire) as she offers to take on the role of governess of the Chapelwaite estate when everyone abandons their post. Early on we find out that she takes the role for her own selfish intentions as she wants to unearth the secrets of the Boone family to write a book about them. In the role Hampshire is excellent as a woman of conviction who goes against the gender norms of the time. This comes across in how she speaks up for herself in a manner which may rock the boat on occasion but not result in her being shunned. It is a perfectly measured approach that could go too far one way or the other in the hands of a lesser talent. The best thing about her performance though is the empathy she shows which grows in tandem to her understanding of the Boone family through her time with the Boone children and seeing the adversity they face. 


Adrien Brody in Chapelwaite

Whilst the gothic tone set up through the candle lit halls of Chapelwaite manor and the emaciated wasteland that was once Jerusalem's Lot adds to the creepiness of the show, the true horror is Preacher's Corner. It is a town that God has abandoned, where all life has been sucked out of it resulting in a resentment which has festered amongst those who inhabit the town. Charles offers them a lifeline by trying to turn it into a major shipping town but the people of the town flat out reject it blaming his family for their ills. The chief culprit is elder townsman Samuel Gallup (Eric Peterson), a god fearing hypocrite who makes his sole goal in life to admonish the Boone family at any turn. In doing so he makes the people of the town align with his horrid views. Peterson is great in the role playing it with a scenery chewing hatefulness that leaves you on edge waiting for him to get his comeuppance. These types of characters and the desaturated look of the scenes that take place in Preacher's Corner show how the hateful attitudes of the population shape their environment. It helps give the show a bit of a bleak flavour long before the vampiric elements come into play. 


Whilst the attitudes of most of the town are negative towards the Boone family, there are a few who have a semblance of decency towards them. Constable Dennison Hugh Thompson) initially encourages the family to move away due to their legacy in the town but as he learns more of the truth (especially when it affects his wife) his attitudes change and he becomes more understanding. The same can be said for the local preacher Minister Burroughs (Gord Rand) who in a playful twist has a crisis of faith akin to Father Callaghan in 'Salem's Lot'. Neither character is without sin and it helps flesh them out into more rounded characters in a traditional King manner and this is reflected in their respective performances. 


Whilst the horrors of the time period are fascinating, the supernatural elements work just as well. Given how it is a prequel to 'Salem's Lot' there is no surprise that the show deals with vampires but the manner in which they are presented takes a traditional look and adds a new spin to their lore with its Lovecraftian elements. Around half way through the series we find out that the vampires that dwell in an unholy church in Jerusalem's Lot are led by Jakub (Christopher Heyerdahl) who seeks a book known as "De Vermis Mysteriis" (The Mysteries of the Worm). Once this is read in full it will plunge the world into eternal darkness beckoning the coming of the elder god known as "the worm". The general design of the vampires is quite traditional in terms of the pale skin, fangs and blackened eyes but it fits in perfectly with the show's period aesthetic adding to the overall atmosphere of the show. Jakub is slightly different with his more gaunt appearance and thin long hair which is incredibly creepy and makes him feel ancient in some respects. When the Lovecraftian elements come into play in the show they are some of the best examples of cosmic horror presented on screen inducing a dread filled sense of unease, especially the scene later in the series involving the stars over Jerusalem's Lot or the premonitions of what could pass if Jakub's plan comes to fruition. 


Christopher Heyerdahl in Chapelwaite

At one point the show was due to be renewed for a second season but plans for this fell through. That doesn't mean the show feels incomplete by the end of the series as it ends on a tragic yet fitting note that is in keeping with the tone of the series. Whilst there are some possibilities to explore in terms of where the show could go from here, it feels like it was the perfect place to end it. 



When it was announced that the short story of 'Jerusalem's Lot' was going to be adapted into a ten episode series, the news was met with much scepticism (including from myself) but the Filardi brothers pull off an absolute masterstroke with the show with their inclusion of new characters and expansion of existing ones in the tradition of King by planting them in this dead world in Maine full of wretches both real and supernatural. It takes its time exploring the story in the manner a show like this deserves and in turn rewarding the macabre audience with some disturbing and gruesome moments. It is a gem of an adaptation that unfortunately too few people talk about. 


Verdict: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️


-Joseph McElroy


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