Apple TV’s adaptation of Stephen King’s Lisey’s Story (debuting 4 June) is first and foremost an exploration of love and loss. It’s romantic and tender and at times even a little heart-aching. But King being King, of course, elements of supernatural horror and stalker thriller are thrown into the mix, giving both the show and the book an edge of darkness to it. A giant monster, a fantasy land called Boo’Ya Moon, and water with the power to heal and inspire are just some of the otherworldly characteristics featured heavily in the show. Yes, when it’s weird, Lisey’s Story gets really weird. But at the same time, there’s also something grounded and so personal in between all those oddness. In fact, at its heart, Lisey’s Story is about how love — either between spouses or siblings — can save us from gloominess.

Written by King himself and directed entirely by the Chilean auteur Pablo Larraín, the eight-part miniseries centers around the titular Lisey (Julianne Moore), as she’s trying to move forward two years after the death of her husband, the Pulitzer-winning novelist Scott Landon (Clive Owen). One day, when Lisey is cleaning out Scott’s study, memories of when he’s still alive resurfaces — their beautiful marriage where Cornelius Brothers & Sister Rose’s “Too Late to Turn Back Now” is humming in the background; the intimate, snowy trip they took years ago, the time when Lisey saved Scott from public shooting.

But not all of it is exactly beautiful. Memories that Lisey has tried to repress for years, like when Scott succumbed to catatonia and depression or when Scott told and showed Lisey about Boo’Ya Moon — a place Scott used to go to escape from his father’s abusive behavior as a kid — also keep resurfacing. At times even more intensely than the beautiful ones, as if it’s now catching up on to her. On top of having to deal with the loss of Scott’s death and all the repressed memories mentioned above, Lisey is faced with two other problems: one is related to her sister Amanda (Joan Allen), who, like Scott, suffers from mental illness and catatonia, and the other one revolves around a psychotic stalker named Jim Dooley (Dane DeHaan), who demands Lisey to give him all of Scott’s unpublished works.

The show, however, takes its time pretty slowly before revealing how these three narratives will converge into one. In fact, it’s not until the antepenultimate episode that all the puzzle pieces start to come together. For some, the show’s deliberate pace and one-drip-at-a-time storytelling might feel a little frustrating, and understandably so. Lisey’s Story places the viewer right in the middle of the mystery without giving any clear background at the beginning of the journey, and that can obviously be a little off-putting. But on the other hand, King’s decision to withhold lots of information is exactly why both the book and the show are so inviting in the first place. It puts us directly into the characters’ shoes as they’re trying to figure out and make sense of all the enigma that they’re facing. So in a lot of ways, we share the struggle and the confusion that the characters are feeling throughout the show. And as a result, when the show reaches its final destination, the journey proves to be a lot more cathartic and rewarding.

It certainly helps that all the cast give such magnetic performances as well. Moore plays Lisey with grace and pathos. She’s never showy and always keeps everything as subtle as possible. But as the show goes on, and as Lisey starts to fully become her own heroine self, Moore imbues her character with so much fearlessness. As Scott, Owen’s enigmatic performance gives Lisey’s Story a deep sense of romantic darkness to a point where it feels like his character is always looming in on the background even when he’s not on screen. Both heartbreaking and hysterical, Allen is equally marvelous as Amanda. But the one who steals the spotlight the most is Jennifer Jason Leigh as Lisey’s no-nonsense, fiery sister Darla. Not only is she the anchor that grounds the show’s otherworldly nature, Leigh also becomes the audience proxy as one strangeness happens after another throughout the show. The chemistry Leigh shares with Moore gives Lisey’s Story more liveliness (and sometimes humor). Larraín’s direction is no less excellent than the performances he draws from the cast. He’s able to make every scene more suspenseful or tender in a way that is effortless. King, Larraín, Moore, and all the cast have no doubt made a powerhouse collaboration in Lisey’s Story.

Equally chilling and poignant, Lisey’s Story is a near-perfect adaptation of Stephen King’s most profound and personal work to date. It combines romance with thriller and supernatural horror to a brilliant result, and while doing so, it offers stellar performances from Julianne Moore and Jennifer Jason Leigh, with Larraín’s airtight, suspenseful direction making the show all the more remarkable.

Rating: ★★★★

Lisey’s Story will be available on Apple TV from June 4, 2021