First Impressions: Christmas gets a spooky makeover in AMC’s NOS4A2

In Here, Iowa, Charlie Manx is on the hunt. He has a target – the lonely and unloved little Daniel – and his Rolls Royce Wraith is packed with presents, ready to take the needy child off to Christmasland. Sounds nice, right? Well, not if acclaimed horror writer Joe Hill has anything to do with it.

NOS4A2 is a (sort of) adaptation of Hill’s novel of the same name, following teenage outcast Vic McQueen as she comes to terms with her emerging supernatural powers. A “strong creative”, Vic develops the ability to find lost things – the perfect power when children are going missing. But Vic has her own problems, including her warring parents, and a lost kid in a far off state isn’t one of them.

A few episodes in, NOS4A2 is a bit of a mixed bag. There’s horror tropes galore – some successful, some just too tired – and there’s a familiar bleakness to the New England setting (though Daniel goes missing in Iowa, Vic lives in Haverhill, Massachusetts) that is all too reminiscent of Stranger Things, Once Upon A Time, and, of course, the work of Hill’s father Stephen King. But if you resist the temptation to roll your eyes when Vic says she has no friends because she like books and art, NOS4A2 looks set to be an enjoyably creepy romp, filled with moments of horror rooted in the uncanny.

Weighed down a little by all too human drama, the show does struggle to find a balance between the normal and the paranormal, but it’s bolstered by fantastic performances throughout. Scoring Zachary Quinto to play spooky spectre Charlie Manx is likely the big selling point, but Ashleigh Cummings‘ turn as Vic is, honestly, brilliant. Cummings brings much to a role that does occasionally drift a little too close to the teen drama line, remaining interesting and watchable even when the plot feels like its starting to slow.

Hill has no doubt deflected comparisons to his father’s work throughout most of his career, but there’s a gleeful embracing of it here, from the location to the IT-like luring of children and the briefest glimpse of the words “Pennywise Circus”. Lovecraft also gets a mention, and Hill’s own back catalogue is referenced as well, but there’s a clear reverence for King that – at this early stage – borders on the right side of fun.

Shifting the novel from focusing on an adult Vic to a teen might leave some book fans a little peeved, but it’s so far so good with NOS4A2. The lore is solid, the performances are great, and if the team (headed by showrunner Jami O’Brien) can dig up a little more spooky – and a little less kooky teen outcast – we could be onto a winner.

THREE STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Aussie viewers can watch AMC’s NOS4A2 via Amazon Prime Video from June 7th.

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