In the first ten minutes of the pilot episode of Lisey’s Story there are barely any words said, just melancholic music as Lisey (Julianne Moore) swims and kisses her husband Scott (Clive Owen) in a field. What is said – “Scott, he’s got a gun” – Lisey says almost coolly, not fully realising that a man is pointing a gun at her husband. Scott Landon is one of the most celebrated fiction writers in America. Why is he shot? Later in the episode we hear the next sentence quietly muttered by the gunman himself: “You stole my mind”.
The show jumps two years after the tragedy, as Lisey lives alone in their country house, sitting on a mountain of money and (perhaps more valuable) an unread manuscript. Lisey argues with Professor Dashmiel (Ron Cephas Jones), who is desperate to get it published; she cares for her catatonic, self-harming sister, Amanda (a breathtaking performance from Joan Allen), and suffers bouts of guilt for her inherited wealth from third sister Darla (Jennifer Jason Leigh). Lisey’s grief and depression are only the tip of the iceberg in her suffering, as the crazed fan of her late husband Jim Dooley (Dane DeHaan) is intent upon getting his hands on the manuscript (and is not going to be as polite as the aforementioned professor: “I’m gonna hurt you in places you didn’t allow the boys to touch at Junior High dances.”).
Written and directed by two modern-day geniuses – Stephen King, who has cemented himself as one of the most renowned horror and fiction writers in the world, and Pablo Larrain, whose 2016 film Jackie wowed audiences with its fever dream melancholia and beautiful direction – one would not be blamed for having high hopes for Lisey’s Story, especially with its star-studded cast. However, the show is 90% style and 10% substance. There is no effort made to create convincing dialogue – instead minutes upon minutes are wasted on close-ups of Moore swimming, Allen’s hands wrapped around shards of china and DeHaan eating a multitude of foods. There is little to no plot development in the first two episodes, hardly any characterisation, and the production is overall dull. Horror fans need not fear – there are plenty of supernatural elements, blood and gore – but Lisey’s Story is a failed attempt to emulate the magic, intrigue and wonderful terror of any of King’s other works.
Lisey’s Story is released on Apple TV+ on 4th June 2021.
Watch the trailer for Lisey’s Story here: