Author Joe Hill’s third novel, NOS4A2, is a massive, sprawling story that spans decades as it weaves together the journeys of plucky antihero Vic McQueen and a vicious child-eating psychic vampire named Charlie Manx. Their unique supernatural gifts set them down a path of eventual collision, but there’s a whole heap of emotional devastation, familial trauma, and dead bodies that are left in the wake of it all. It’s so massive in scope, that a series is the only appropriate choice for adaptation. Even still, novel adaptations have proven a tricky thing to nail down. Luckily the network behind The Walking Dead has proven once again to have a strong grasp on horror television that hits just as hard on an emotional level as it does in inducing fear.
The premiere episode of NOS4A2 doesn’t feel like the standard pilot; there’s no tidy and neat introduction to this world and its characters. Showrunner Jami O’Brien and the writers drop the viewer right into the deep end of this world, teasing the terror of what the unsuspecting protagonists will eventually be up against while setting up key character dynamics. All of which will only become more complex and devastating as the series progresses. It’s a compelling primer for the series, whether you’re familiar with the source material or not. Though fans of the novel will be pleased to know that, while there are certain changes, the core themes, characters, and universe remains the same – the pilot does make a visual reference that places NOS4A2 in the same universe as Hill’s Locke & Key and Stephen King’s It, as it was in the novel.
Ashleigh Cummings (Hounds of Love) stars as Vic McQueen, a high schooler with dreams of attending art school and leaving her town of Haverhill. Her father (Ebon Moss-Bachrach) supports her dreams, but her more practically minded mother (Virginia Kull) balks at the idea since they can’t afford it. That the parents’ relationship is volatile and contentious at best puts Vic constantly in emotional turmoil, leading to the discovery of a special, extraordinary talent for finding lost objects. Cummings is a remarkable fit for Vic, the vulnerable yet resilient lead protagonist. We’re also introduced to Maggie (Jahkara Smith), a spunky librarian who can discern the unknowable by way of her bag of Scrabble tiles.
Then there’s Charlie Manx (Zachary Quinto), who begins the pilot as a creepy old man with his equally unnerving Rolls Royce Wraith as he lures his victim, a child, into the backseat with Christmas songs and presents. He tells the child he’s come to whisk them away to Christmasland, and the cheerful holiday has never felt so menacing. The pilot doesn’t bother explaining much about Manx, but between Quinto’s performance, the impressive special makeup design by Academy Award-winning artist Joel Harlow, and the very sinister scenes we get of the character, there’s a hell of a lot of visceral terror heading our way.
NOS4A2’s pilot isn’t so much a traditional pilot as it is an immersive beginning to one emotionally wrought, harrowing journey ahead for the characters. This means that the horror elements mostly bookend the episode as it takes its time laying out the playing field, but it gives enough to demonstrate that this tale will have teeth. Sharp, pointy rows of teeth. There’s an immense level of talent involved with this series, both on screen and behind the lens, and it shows. The premiere episode is all about getting us invested in this world, and it succeeds.
NOS4A2 is slated for a summer premiere on AMC.