Posts Tagged ‘Joe Hill’

I listened to the audio book of NOS4A2 by Joe Hill (aka Stephen King’s son Joe King) about a year or two ago. I liked it: it had several scary moments, awesome characters, and trippy psychic phenomena his dear dad probably approved wholeheartedly (the only real downside was the narrator. Just totally wrong for that book). When I heard a TV adaptation was in the works, I got interested, especially since the book doesn’t exactly lend itself to adaptation. But adapted it was. And whoo-boy, what an adaptation.

NOS4A2 follows Vic McQueen, a teenager whose motorbike allows her to access the Shorter Way Bridge, a supernatural wormhole that helps her find lost things. She later finds out that there’s another like her out there: Charlie Manx, a man who kidnaps children in his Rolls Royce Wraith (the license plate of which is where the title of the show comes from), transforms them into vampiric monsters, and takes them to a place in an alternate dimension called Christmasland, where it’s Christmas Eve every night and Christmas Day every day. In exchange, he gets to stay young. And whether by choice or by fate, Vic must face Manx and stop him, or he’ll keep taking kids forever.

Let me just say, the cast of this show is the best part. Every actor fully becomes their characters, so that it becomes hard to remember anything else you’ve seen them in. The best, of course, are Ashleigh Cummings as the protagonist Vic McQueen and Zachary Quinto as antagonist Manx. Cummings truly makes you believe she’s a teen just trying to get out of town and out of poverty, preferably by going to art school in Providence. And oh my God, whether as his normal self or under a lot of make-up and prosthetics to look a hundred years old, Quinto is creepy as heck. He comes off as charming on the surface but underneath is a psychopath hungry for power and totally convinced of his own line of altruistic bullshit. I swear, if he goes in character at a convention, every parent who’s seen the show is going to scream and grab their child out of instinct before remembering he’s an actor in a role.

Of course, the show itself is nothing to sneeze at. There are several creepy and tense moments, and more than a few scenes where Vic is in danger that kept me on the edge of my seat. Even better, there are no episodes where things slow down and get unnecessarily boring. There was one episode where Vic had to go to a hospital where I thought it would get slow and boring, and she’d spend the whole book sorting her life out before deciding to fight Manx. Without getting into details, my expectations were subverted (and not in a bad way, like what I hear happened to the last season of Game of Thrones).

The only issues I had were that some things the writers included just didn’t feel necessary or make sense to me. In one episode, Vic’s got twelve hours to meet up with Manx, who has kidnapped a kid she knows. What does she do in the meantime? She parties at a rich friend’s house, gets drunk, and talks with a cute boy before getting sick. Whaaat?

And what was with the halfhearted love-triangle? They just kind of didn’t go anywhere with that, so why would they include it?

But on the whole, NOS4A2‘s first season is a strong start for the series, and I can’t wait for the second season. On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving this season a 4.4. An amazing cast and great storytelling mixed with taut atmosphere and mystery. Grab your reality-cutting knife, get some hot chocolate and candy canes, and dive into the Highway of the Mind. You won’t be disappointed.

And until next time, my Followers of Fear, pleasant nightmares.

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I’ve been keen to read this novel since Stephen King tweeted about it months ago, saying this novel, which apparently is the first work of an already-established author published under a pen name, was the first great thriller of 2017.* By the time it came out on July 11th, I was one of the first people to get a copy at the library. And while I don’t always agree with King on what makes a good story (see my review for A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay), I have to say, he was right that this is a great thriller novel, possibly the first great one of 2017 (I haven’t read most of the others that came out this year, so who am I to judge?).

Final Girls follows Quincy Carpenter, the lone survivor of the Pine Cottage Massacre, in which a man she only refers to as Him killed all her friends while on a camping trip and she was the only survivor. This has made Quincy part of an exclusive club known as the Final Girls, women who have survived horror-movie style massacres and, like the girls in those movies, are the only ones to survive. The other two are Lisa Milner, the survivor of a sorority house murder spree in Indiana, and Samantha Boyd, who escaped and killed a killer known as the Sack Man at a motel in Florida. Quincy, who has no memory of the events at Pine Cottage, wants nothing but to keep up her baking blog, maybe marry her defense attorney boyfriend someday, and have some definition of normal.

That is, until Lisa Milner dies under mysterious circumstances in Indiana, and Samantha Boyd shows up at Quincy’s apartment in New York to talk. Suddenly Quincy’s life is thrown into a maelstrom as Sam’s presence threatens not just to unearth the memories from that fateful night, but change her world forever.

Immediately, you feel like this is two stories in one, a standard slasher and a mystery/thriller. On the slasher hand, you get to read Quincy’s recollections of Pine Cottage, which are told in third-person POV and past tense. And on the other hand, you get the events of Quincy’s current life, which are told in first-person POV and present tense, which is a mystery/thriller mixed with the story of two completely opposite people trying to bond over an incredible and dark situation. And both stories are peppered with references to horror movies, especially the best of the slasher genre. There are some obvious ones: Quincy’s last name is a reference to director John Carpenter of the Halloween series, while Lisa Milner’s massacre is an obvious reference to Black Christmas. But there are other, subtler references. ┬áThe mystery elements definitely remind me of the Scream movies and the TV series, which utilize mystery to offset themselves from tried-and-done-to-death slasher stories, as well as elements that make me think of Urban Legend. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg, there are probably references I don’t recognize from movies/comics/shows/books I haven’t seen or read yet.

I also really enjoyed the characters. Quincy felt incredibly real to me: rather than being a character who’s always good and delicate or always damaged and dealing with her issues, she’s actually a pretty good balance of both. She’s clearly made some progress in trying to move on and have a new normal, but she also has issues that she doesn’t want to address, even takes some joy in, and those occasionally threaten the balance she’s trying to maintain in her life. It’s very refreshing to see such a realistic character like that. I also found Samantha Boyd (or Sam, as she prefers), to be very real. She’s a girl whose life is one defined by horrors, and who’s trying, in her own way, to reach out to the one person left in the world who knows what it’s like to have felt horrors like hers. The way she does it isn’t exactly smooth, but it does feel like someone with her background might use to reach out and find some mutual catharsis.

But the best part of the story is definitely how twisty it is. Even when we go back to Quincy’s past, it is anything but a standard slasher, going in directions you don’t see coming. Just today, while reading the last 70 or so pages, I kept marveling at surprise after surprise after surprise. And that’s pretty much how it is for most of the book, especially in the latter half of it. I think even some veteran mystery/thriller fans will find themselves surprised at the twists in store here in Final Girls.

If there’s one thing that might have been a drawback for this novel, I felt that the moments that Quincy and Sam were trying to bond were a little slow at times, but that may be nitpicking on my part. They were still well-written parts, and they showed both how much these girls wanted to be friends and how much they rubbed against each other as people.

On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving Final Girls a well-earned 4.6. From one page to the next, you never know what to expect, and it will only leave you wanting more. Go ahead, pick it up, and find you have a hard time putting it down.

* This tweet and hints about the author’s identity make me think it might be Stephen King’s son Joe Hill doing his own Richard Bachman turn, but that’s just my guess.