Chapelwaite is a slow-burning, sometimes tedious, Victorian-era gothic horror story that takes a few episodes to get going, but the investment is worth it. That said, I worry some will be turned off by the languorous pacing of the first few episodes of the season. But before we get into the analytic part of this review, let’s discuss what the show is actually about!
Based on Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot prequel, Jerusalem’s Lot, Chapelwaite is a gothic horror set to debut on EPIX on August 22. Adrien Brody stars as Charles Boone, a ship captain and father of three children and a man haunted by decades of the Boone family curse. After laying his wife to rest at sea, Charles returns with his children to his ancestral home of Chapelwaite in the small-town of Preacher’s Corners.
The Boones are immediately iced out and mistreated by the townsfolk, who blame his family for bringing sickness to them all. Aspiring writer Rebecca Morgan (Emily Hampshire) is the only woman in town who gives Charles and his family a chance, and it’s mainly because she has been selected to write a story for the prestigious magazine The Atlantic. Rebecca hopes that by becoming the Boone family governess, she can learn more about the mysterious curse and weave a compelling tale.
Throughout the 10-episode season, Charles must grapple with the prejudice of the townsfolk while simultaneously being haunted by his father before him, a man who was driven mad by personal demons and perhaps the dreaded Boone curse. Considering the opening scene of the series is a young Charles almost getting murdered by his own father, you can understand why he fears spiraling into the same descent into insanity that the men who preceded him have faced.
Chapelwaite review: Breaking down the good & the bad
I’ll break down the bad parts first, and then I’ll get into the good stuff. On the bad side, we have a storyline that is stretched too thin. I’m not sure who decided to make Chapelwaite fill 10 hour-long episodes when the source material itself stems from a short story. Ironically, Chapelwaite ends up being longer than the recent miniseries The Stand, based on King’s longest novel to date.
You can feel the show succumbing to the weight of its narrative space because there isn’t enough story to tell in that timeframe, resulting in a slow-burning season that takes about three-four episodes to introduce the immortal night creatures for which Salem’s Lot is known.
The other problem is the casting. Adrien Brody is decidedly gifted at playing a somber man with the weight of the world on his shoulders. But it does feel like he’s holding back in the places where he should be most over-the-top; he is portraying a man descending into madness as his family’s curse befalls him, after all.
And secondly, as much as it pains me to say this since I am a fan of hers, Emily Hampshire feels miscast in the role of Rebecca. I don’t know if it’s because the show doesn’t give her much to do throughout its ten episodes or the inconsistency in her character, but Hampshire doesn’t provoke the same scene-stealing gravitas she presented in 12 Monkeys or the snark we all loved from Schitt’s Creek. Falling somewhere in the middle of those two characters, Rebecca feels a little flat.
Then there is the production design of Chapelwaite. For a series that prides itself on its gothic horror roots, everything is a little too drab for my tastes. Even the famed manor itself lacks any sense of grandeur. Compared to something like Crimson Peak, Chapelwaite feels dreary and gray, but not in a lush, atmospheric way that we’ve come to expect from gothic fiction. I’m guessing this might just come down to budgetary restrictions, another reason why it would have suited the series to constrain its length to a handful of episodes rather than ten.
A good example of what I anticipated would be the show’s beautiful opening credits sequence which has all the hallmarks of gothic storytelling.
Chapelwaite explores the dark underbelly of small-town vigilance and prejudices with a cruel, violent edge.
On the plus side, Chapelwaite does offer a corner of horror we haven’t seen too much of as of late, that of vampires. It’s not really a spoiler to say so since we all know what Jerusalem’s Lot/Salem’s Lot is about. Even if you go into the series unprepared, you’ll find there is plenty of gore and old-school horror tropes to enjoy.
That said, it is an investment. As I mentioned earlier, the meat of the story doesn’t kick in for a few episodes. I think Chapelwaite will be better served by those who watch one episode weekly than by me, who binged all 10 episodes since they were made available for review. I intend to rewatch weekly to recap, however, and look forward to a second viewing.
It’s one of those series best taken in small doses. But when you get to the back half, there are some genuinely surprising twists and turns, some that even cross the line in big risks that ultimately do pay off for the character arcs and the Boone family’s central journey.
Those who like blood and gore in their horror should be satisfied by what happens as this tale unfolds. A sense of palpable dread, suspense, and customary haunted house trademarks creep into the show from an early stage. You have to be willing to ride it out even when the pacing slows down to a near halt.
Cloaked in a shroud of ancient evil, carnage, bloodshed, and familial angst, Chapelwaite explores the dark underbelly of small-town vigilance and prejudices with a cruel, violent edge. Once the show sinks its teeth into you, it’ll be hard to shake it loose.
Oh, and there are worms, delusions, copious amounts of bloodshed, twisted relationship dynamics, repulsive monstrosities, and much more to behold! Ultimately, I think Chapelwaite is worth the investment, especially those who appreciate a good slow-burn horror tale and are willing to be patient with this series as it navigates its early growing pains. Plus, I really can’t resist a Victorian horror story.
Overall score: B-
Chapelwaite officially premieres on August 22 on EPIX.