Lisey’s Story goes even deeper in unnerving third chapter [Apple TV+ review]

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Boo'ya Moon, the dream world of Lisey's Story
Boo'ya Moon, the dream world of Lisey's Story.
Photo: Apple TV+

The wild Apple TV+ adaptation of Stephen King’s Lisey’s Story gets even richer and more imaginative in this week’s episode. Having introduced Lisey, the troubled widow of a famous writer, the miniseries starts drawing out the details of the other people who populate its real and imaginary worlds.

Director Pablo Larraín continues to flex his artistic muscles as he creates a compelling fantasy world. And one character in particular proves delightfully unnerving.

Lisey’s Story review: Episode 3, ‘Under the Yum-Yum Tree’

In the episode, titled “Under the Yum-Yum Tree,” Lisey (played by Julianne Moore) is dealing with fires in every room in her house. She’s still grieving her dead writer husband Scott Landon (Clive Owen), and indeed takes a long second to stroll down memory lane to their honeymoon. She finally sees the first image of Jim Dooley (Dane DeHaan), the deranged stalker out to steal a fabled unpublished story by Scott, and she isn’t comforted by the upsetting figure he cuts.

Meanwhile, her sister Amanda (Joan Allen) is newly committed to a sanitarium following a violent episode. And her other sister, Darla (Jennifer Jason Leigh), won’t help out as much because she still resents that Lisey won’t pull her weight. (It’s a grudge she’s been carrying since Lisey got rich when she married Scott.) Everyone in this show seems mere moments from breaking down, but Lisey’s truly being pulled in every direction.

While Lisey is reminiscing about her honeymoon, she remembers Scott telling a story about his childhood. Seems he was sired by a violent drunk (Giovanni Celentano), so he received most of his familial affection from his brother Paul (Clark Furlong). In one beautiful sequence, Paul makes young Scott a scavenger hunt. It feels like the perfect wedding of director Larraín’s rhythmic montage and King’s love of childhood secrets and the return to the womb-like comforts of innocence.

Where am I?

Larraín’s at his best when leaping through time and space. (I mentioned last week the show’s debt to Chilean experimental filmmaker Raúl Ruiz, especially in Larraín’s conception of Boo’ya Moon, the dream world Scott Landon occupies.) But Larraín’s also a keen student of French philosopher/poet/filmmaker Alain Resnais, who made broken continuity an art form in movies like 1968’s Je t’aime, je t’aime and 1963’s Muriel).

Larraín does some true gymnastics this week in Lisey’s Story. The flashbacks all intrude literally on real life, which becomes more troubling when we’re also jumping into the dream world into which Amanda (and possibly Scott, or his ghost or something) seems to be pulled.

The character of Amanda’s madness is that she thinks she’s being yanked into this dream world. But she becomes more persuasive when she starts carving messages on her wrists with scissors that seem to be from Scott. Lisey’s in no mood to deal with this, and all the while Dooley keeps getting closer and closer. In point of fact … he’s right behind her.

Jump, Scotty, jump

Lisey's Story review: Dane DeHaan digs into his villainous stalker role with aplomb.
Dane DeHaan digs into his villainous stalker role with aplomb.

We must talk for a moment about how perfectly cast Dane DeHaan is in the role of stone-cold psychopath Dooley. I’ve liked DeHaan in oddball stuff, but watch enough of his movies and you notice his inner creep isn’t utilized nearly well enough.

Not the case here! There’s a lovely little sequence where Officer Beckman (the very welcome Sung Kang) shows Lisey an incel fan video Dooley made before he was committed to an asylum, and you can see just how much DeHaan’s loving this part.

In his grotesque and under-lit college dorm, Dooley all but makes out with a standee of Scott Landon. “No wife!” he says. “Stay single!” He also collects every weird piece of ephemera he can from the dead author’s career.

Dooley is the part DeHaan, with his bad complexion and his beady little eyes, was born to play. Not to say DeHaan’s an unattractive guy (he’s hired a lot for a reason!). But I like that he let himself be extremely off-putting in Lisey’s Story, and it pays rich dividends. On a show with a cast that boasts a gazillion Oscar nominations between them, DeHaan can really command the screen.

Not to say anyone else is slouching. Allen is stunning as the haunted Amanda, doing so much without words. Leigh and Moore are also at their best. It’s heartening to see them so in their element in scenes together, so soon after watching them both shrug their way through the truly jaw-dropping adaptation of The Woman in the Window, a poor man’s attempt at the mass-market paperback thrills on which King made his name.

Between Lisey’s Story, the second seasons of Mythic Quest and Servant, and the just-wrapped The Mosquito Coast, Apple TV+ is having a good enough year that I’ll forgive it for making me watch Central Park.

Lisey’s Story on Apple TV+

New episodes of Lisey’s Story arrive on Apple TV+ on Fridays.

Rated: TV-MA

Watch on: Apple TV+

Scout Tafoya is a film and TV critic, director and creator of the long-running video essay series The Unloved for RogerEbert.com. He has written for The Village Voice, Film Comment, The Los Angeles Review of Books and Nylon Magazine. He is the director of 25 feature films, and the author of more than 300 video essays, which can be found at Patreon.com/honorszombie.