Sisters steal the show this week in Lisey’s Story [Apple TV+ review]

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Lisey's Story review: It's a total sister act this week.
It's a total sister act this week.
Photo: Apple TV+

With a showdown on the horizon, Lisey gets back in touch with her sisters — in the most intense way imaginable — in this week’s installment of Lisey’s Story, the fantastical Apple TV+ series based on Stephen King’s novel.

It’s only a matter of time before Lisey has to take down her foes, real and imaginary, and she’s gonna need all the help she can get.

Lisey’s Story episode 6 review: ‘Now You Must Be Still’

In this week’s episode, titled “Now You Must Be Still,” Lisey (played by Julianne Moore) heads into Boo’ya Moon, finds her sister Amanda (Joan Allen) there and realizes what the dynamic is. Amanda is here in the dream world, because she’s been sort of copied there.

Her soul is in the dream world, but her body remains on earth, catatonic in the sanitarium where Lisey and their sister Darla (Jennifer Jason Leigh) left her. Lisey finally lets Darla in on all this because she’s decided she’s going to go on the offensive — and she needs all the help she can get.

Darla doesn’t believe or get any of it but she’s persuaded when Lisey sucks the sickness out of Amanda’s soul in the home. (It looks like they’re passing several gallons of water between their open mouths.)

It’s the degree to which Leigh (one of the greats) just flatly refuses to engage with Lisey’s tone and Moore-as-Lisey’s complete impatience with Leigh-as-Darla that makes the fantasy work. If they were twinkly eyed and full of wonder like Stephen King protagonists can sometimes get in TV and movie adaptations, it wouldn’t work. It’s the skepticism and sarcasm that make it work to the degree that it does. This is a very modern (and yet kind of classical) kind of impossible.

The episode had been good until the reunion of the sisters. But when Moore, Leigh and Allen act off each other, this thing just springs to life. Lisey’s Story slid by on this groove of time travel and beautiful, disquieting images for several episodes. But the sisterly têtes-à-tête are just dynamite. Letting these three women off the chain is fantastic and cathartic. (They wind up screaming off of a cliff face in a thunderstorm for maximal release.)

Do not go gently

Jennifer Jason Leigh, left, and Julianne Moore ponder something heavy in <em>Lisey's Story</em>.
Jennifer Jason Leigh, left, and Julianne Moore ponder something heavy in Lisey’s Story.
Photo: Apple TV+

This episode comes closest in spirit to most other King adaptations. The excitement of realizing you’re together with people you love in a kind of cosmic conspiracy always delivers a sort of orgasmic freedom. It’s a curious thing to try and make cinematic, though, because most of the time it just looks like people shouting. If you want a crash course in how not to do this kind of thing look no further than Lawrence Kasdan’s completely deranged Dreamcatcher from 2003.

Kasdan, until then a fairly discerning writer/director, was thoroughly trounced by the dramatic demands of King’s writing. He let his cast wildly overact, and gave them the dumbest dialogue and gestures imaginable. He also introduced characters and ideas out of nowhere because there was no logical solution to any of the peril on screen.

To this day Dreamcatcher remains confounding and hugely embarrassing. That’s what happens when you can’t figure out how to change King’s prose into something cinematic. You make a movie that looks for all the world like a regular sci-fi horror film, but every couple of seconds a character answers a pistol like a telephone or uses a made-up playground swear word you’d never use in your wildest drunken dreams.

When sisters celebrate

Lisey’s Story director Pablo Larraín admits that there’s a time and a place for everything while doing this. (He’s had six episodes to prioritize what he wanted and he’s been, let’s say, 83% successful up ’til now.) So when it is time to do a little real-time celebration like the girls get up to, he relents.

The time-play and the beautifully hushed tone of the series gives way to real joy, shot more or less conventionally. It’s a bummer, because I like the style in which he’s shot everything else. But I’m as human as the next guy. I like watching these three exceptional actresses hugging each other and plotting to kill stalker Jim Dooley (Dane DeHaan). It’s just good television.

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.