[Review] “Chapelwaite” Expands Stephen King Story and Sinks Its Teeth into Classic Gothic Tradition

The fictional town of Jerusalem’s Lot, Maine, gets mentioned frequently in author Stephen King‘s works. Most famously, it’s the setting for his vampire novel ‘Salem’s Lot and, to a lesser extent, a stand-alone prequel short story “Jerusalem’s Lot.” The latter channeled Bram Stoker’s The Lair of the White Worm, with an 1850’s tale of terror told in the form of letters. Its series adaptation, EPIX’s Chapelwaite, narratively expands King’s story greatly while perhaps adhering a little too closely to period Gothic tradition and storytelling.

It results in a sometimes bloody and often laborious ten-episode series.

Captain Charles Boone (Adrien Brody) relocates his three children to the small coastal town of Preacher’s Corner, Maine, following the death of his wife and the discovery of an inheritance. That inheritance includes Chapelwaite, a rundown ancestral mansion that harbors disturbing family secrets. Boone’s family name draws ire and suspicion among locals, incurring instant hostility. Boone’s three children more closely resemble their Polynesian mother, further exacerbating the abrasive unwelcome, with their governess Rebecca (Emily Hampshire) the sole exception. That’s before the madness tied to the Boone lineage and a supernatural curse plaguing the area.

The mere mention of children might raise eyebrows for Constant Readers. Executive producers and series co-creators Peter Filardi (The Craft and 1990’s Flatliners) and Jason Filardi padded out the short story by adding more characters and storylines. The most prominent, of course, are the three Boone children and the stakes they inherently provide Charles. It’s the most successful addition by far. Opening with the tragic loss of their mother, the three children, Honor (Jennifer Ens), Loa (Sirena Gulamgaus), and Tane (Ian Ho), then get thrust into a harsh and unkind new home. They engender the most audience sympathy and help to flesh out an otherwise standard archetype character in Charles. The bond between father and child humanizes Charles in a way that nothing else does in the entire series.

The Filardi brothers excel at building a methodically paced Gothic horror story a little too well. The classic Gothic elements are represented, from the dark, decrepit estate with skeletons in the closet to the traditional road to ruination. Chapelwaite is a series that favors atmosphere and slightly ambiguous mystery. It draws out its biggest questions and demands the patience of its viewers, occasionally offering salacious crumbs along the way to keep you hooked. The horror moments hit hard, bringing some Grand Guignol energy between the quieter lulls. But while the finale brings an emotionally satisfying payoff, it simultaneously disappoints by never exploring specific horror threads beneath the surface level.

As a classic story of good versus evil comes into clearer view, so do resemblances to ‘Salem’s Lot. A town divided, paranoia, child vampires, and deeply flawed characters right down to a priest suffering a crisis of faith all bear hallmarks of this setting’s future in the King universe. For the most part, the production value impresses. Not all VFX elements work, and the endless gray skies make sense for the Gothic mood but muddy the vampire rules- it’s not always obvious where night and day end.

Chapelwaite offers a mostly faithful adaptation to King’s original short, at least in premise, right down to its Stoker influences. Its unhurried storytelling causes significant pacing sags, but the Filardi brothers know when to add enough gnarly horror moments to keep you invested. They’re also unafraid to kill their darlings, ensuring the stakes remain high for all and not everyone will come out of this battle unscathed, if at all. The grounded performances add emotional depth where the narrative rarely does; Gulamgaus is tremendous as the conflicted middle child, and her arc helps carry the entire series on her tiny, capable shoulders. Chapelwaite doesn’t forge any new ground, but its faithful brand of Gothic horror and vicious vampires should appease Constant Readers.

Chapelwaite premieres on Epix on August 22, 2021.