Stephen King might be the most adapted author in history. Everything he writes gets optioned, interpreted and fashioned into a mini-series or multiplex crowd pleaser. In recent years you can include It and Gerald’s Game amongst the works which have been plundered for financial gain. However, for those which have proven successful there are some which have slipped by unnoticed. These include but are not solely limited to Doctor Sleep, The Stand and Salem’s Lot. Projects which lacked neither a solid creative vision, or in most cases an eclectic cast of talented character actors and token A-listers. Which is why Chapelwaite, itself inspired by an early Stephen King short story, could have gone either way.
Debuting this August on Epix, it tries to approach Salem’s Lot from another direction. With period drama pretensions, gothic horror atmospherics and a long form format in its favour Chapelwaite starts slowly. Oscar winner Adrien Brody, who also executive produces, makes for a commanding presence as Charles Boone. Drawn back to Preachers Corners on the promise of an inheritance, episodes are given over to establishing relationships.
Most prominent amongst those initial connections is Rebecca Morgan, played by Emily Hampshire. Taken on as governess to the three children Honor, Loa and Tane; much of the pleasure to be had from Chapelwaite comes from those interactions. Discoveries are drip fed; townsfolk recriminations build tension while Adrien Brody serves as the glue which binds it together. Over the course of eight hours, Charles Boone is imbued with a steely resolve, sharp business mind and fearless demeanour.
Other stands out beyond the two leads include Jennifer Ens as Honor Boone, Sirena Gulamgaus as Loa Boone and Devante Senior as Able Stewart. As the eldest children and saw mill accountant respectively, they add a sense of reality to proceedings when genre tropes kick in. Conventions which include a mystery illness characterized by blood loss, strange sounds behind the walls of Chapelwaite and sporadic visions which terrorize Charles Boone.
Production designer Matt Likely, makes a clear distinction between those of wealth and the working classes, as the grandeur of Chapelwaite sits in stark contrast to Preachers Corners. As the series progresses and audiences are taken to Jerusalem’s Lot, opulence gives way to an eighteenth-century shanty slum. After nearly four hours of television, this is when Epix’s adaptation comes into its own.
Up until this point, manners have been paramount and appearances everything. There have been whispers of a nameless horror and discussions concerning madness, but only now does Chapelwaite kick into gear. After the essential investment of a diligent audience, this series finally comes clean and unleashes an unspeakable evil. Gothic horror subtlety is cast aside, in favour of full frontal exchanges which leave little room for imagination.
From an allegorical perspective these denizens of the dark, represent a liberation of the mind and body considered savage in eighteenth century society. Wanton passions, acres of bare flesh and a casting off of propriety were tantamount to heresy and never discussed. That is what Chapelwaite gets so right, where other versions have fallen short.
At heart this origin story focuses on character rather than spectacle, grounding these people in a recognizable time and place. Any and all supernatural elements are only icing on the cake, in a series which is sure to keep that devoted fanbase happy. By forging an emotional connection over time, audiences are more likely to invest when events go south.
That being said, when the narrative does go in that direction any horrific elements are kept low key, feel organic and ultimately hit home harder. A fact that is more impressive, when it becomes apparent there are multiple directors on this project. Writer Peter Filardi may have been involved in the 2004 version featuring Robe Lowe and Rutger Hauer, but Chapelwaite feels different.
Whether that has anything to do with the advances in long form storytelling, or the advent of streaming services is open to conjecture. What is obvious from the opening frame is that Chapelwaite feels faithful to its source material. There are no attempts to shoehorn unnecessary sub-plots into a story capable on entertaining on its own merits.
If anything, star power has been utilised to make the end result better, not to stroke egos or garner more screen time. In every conceivable sense this is an ensemble piece led by a delicately nuanced performance. For this reason and many others, Chapelwaite serves as a reminder to Hollywood that Oscar winners sometimes win for a reason.
Chapelwaite is a gothic horror period piece that rewards audiences prepared to stay the distance.