I’ve worked at a bookstore for over three years now, so you can probably guess the size of my “To Be Read” pile. It’s overflowing into the hallways like a raging floodwater, choking out the sun as the paperback tide rises above the window sill. My son is hungry, my wife has left me, but there are more books to be read. Among this horde of spooky novels lies Joe Hill’s NOS4A2, purchased in my first week on the job but never opened and read. This means that, unlike the majority of the horror community, I am going into the new AMC series completely blind. I have no idea who these characters are, what their motivations may be, or how they compare to their original versions in Hill’s novel. It’s a refreshing way to watch a series, but can they find a way to reward the blind like myself?
The series begins with a very spooky introduction to Charlie Manx (Zachary Quinto) and his syringe-wielding henchman, Ives (Michael Maize). They are stalking a young boy named Daniel (Asher Miles Fallica), who is kind of a creep and wants to get into bed with his mom when she is having sexy times. She turns him away to, you know, complete the act of love with her boo, and this destroys poor Daniel. He’s a lonely boy, he feels like he is the only person in the whole world, which leads him to accept a Christmas-jingle and present-laden invitation into the back of a stranger’s car. As Daniel gets in, the doors lock, an old man gets into the front seat, and he sees his mother murdered in the front yard by Ives.
“…even a [NOS4A2] noob like myself was able to easily follow along and see the different threads being woven…”
The old man is Charlie Manx. He is ancient and disgusting, but he offers Daniel a glimmer of acceptance. He tells the boy that they are heading to a magical place called Christmasland, where every day is jolly and no one is ever lonely again. As they drive through the wilderness of the United States, Daniel begins to waste away. His eyes darken, his skin pales, and his teeth sharpen. As Daniel transforms, Manx begins to look younger. His jawline and his mind, both, begin to sharpen as he devours the essence of Daniel’s being.
We also meet two women in this episode who both seem to have psychic powers. Maggie (Jahkara Smith) is a young lady in Daniel’s home town of Here, Iowa, who is able to divine the secrets of the universe through the power of Scrabble tiles. She inserts herself into the investigation to find the missing young man, with the tiles revealing “The Wraith” to her one night as she begins her search.
The other character with extraordinary powers is Vic McQueen (Ashleigh Cummings), a rough and tumble townie from Haverhill, Massachusetts who is trying desperately to get out from under the thumb of her controlling mother. She loves art, riding dirt bikes, and her father. What’s interesting about Vic isn’t her aspirations to break the cycle of poverty in her family, but that she can conjure a bridge in her mind that helps her find lost things. When she crosses the creepy covered bridge (that was apparently demolished 15 years ago), it takes her to the location of whatever she is looking for. During this episode alone, she is able to find her parent’s credit card, her father’s watch, and her father himself after he walks out on them.
My biggest fear going into this series was that you need to have read the book to understand what is going on. I’m happy to say that even a noob like myself was able to easily follow along and see the different threads being woven by the showrunners. Some of the menace is missing when being confronted with Manx and his captured child, but I feel like they are laying the groundwork for the fear to explode in future episodes. He feels like a he is supposed to be a boogeyman, but I’m missing the gut-dropping fear that the thing in my closet normally brings with it. So, while I may not know what exactly he is doing to Daniel, or why I should be afraid of him and his Rolls Royce Wraith, I can still tell that he is something I should be afraid of. Here’s to the hope that Quinto can bring that fear in the future.
While Manx felt a little flat in this first episode, that doesn’t mean that NOS4A2 is devoid of fear. Where “The Shorter Way” shines is in the build-up, and subsequent destruction of Vic’s family. Throughout the episode, we see how Vic worships her father. He’s a drunk, sure, but he loves her, and he supports her dreams of going to college and becoming an artist. He is her shelter in the storm of her mother’s controlling nature. She even mentions to someone early on that her biggest fear is that he will walk out, leaving her alone with her mother forever.
As we see in the episode, however, he is not the hero Vic has always viewed him as. He hits her mother, he drinks too much, he cheats with women not much older than Vic, and he abandons them both to run into the arms of another. Her greatest fear is realized as he chooses the arms of a woman over her and their life together. As a child of multiple divorces, let me tell you that the way this is shown ripped me apart inside. When someone who is supposed to be your savior and love you unconditionally decides that you are not enough for him, it poisons your soul and kills any sense of self-worth you might have. Your heart and soul are emptied out, leaving a gaping maw of darkness where any creature can take up residence. It was a beautiful sequence of humanity that sets NOS4A2 apart from the other, more vapid, horror series out there.
“NOS4A2’s first episode may have been a little heavy on introduction and a little light on supernatural spooks, but the real-life terror and pain it introduced is enough to keep even non-readers like myself invested for the weeks to come.”
NOS4A2’s first episode may have been a little heavy on introduction and a little light on supernatural spooks, but the real-life terror and pain it introduced is enough to keep even non-readers like myself invested for the weeks to come. NOS4A2 airs every Sunday night on AMC. Keep your eyes on Nightmare on Film Street as we continue to recap each episode and give you the latest and greatest horror news available on the web. While you’re at it, join our Facebook group, Horror Fiends of Nightmare on Film Street and let us know what you think!