Lisey’s Story paints provocative portrait of incel culture [Apple TV+ review]

By

Lisey's Story review: Dane DeHaan plays a particular kind of creep in the Stephen King miniseries.
Dane DeHaan plays a particular kind of creep in the Stephen King miniseries.
Photo: Apple TV+

Lisey has both of her sisters by her side as crazed stalker Jim Dooley approaches for their final showdown. But is everything as cut-and-dried as it appears?

The penultimate episode of Lisey’s Story, the Stephen King miniseries on Apple TV+, has one last round of games to play.

Lisey’s Story review: Episode 7, ‘No Light, No Spark’

This week’s episode, titled “No Light, No Spark,” shows at length the painful final night of author Scott Landon’s life. Scott (played by Clive Owen) arrives to give a lecture and is treated like a rock star, but something is off. He starts bleeding, coughing and finally spitting up the water that marks a prolonged visitor to the dream world known as Boo’ya Moon. Director Pablo Larraín shoots this perhaps a hair expectedly, but Darius Khondji’s lighting is extraordinary, all moody deep shades and gels.

Scott’s in the middle of delivering a speech to his fans when he experiences terrible organ failure. His wife, Lisey (Julianne Moore), arrives to hear his last words. And then she watches him die.

This is followed by a woozy and effective scene in which Lisey talks to herself while she cleans Scott’s office of his possessions, and he walks on the shores of Boo’ya Moon. This is very well-done indeed, returning to the solid ground of the show’s exploration of what it means to live in the shadow of a dead loved one.

When I die please bury me…

The episode builds toward the meeting with Dooley (Dane DeHaan), who has been stalking and tormenting Lisey and her family since the start of the series. It’s interesting that if you broke the story down to its barest components, it’s just: a woman and her sisters have to kill some guy.

That’s why someone like director Larraín is an essential component to telling this story cinematically. It’s inherently interesting when he films it, but he also films basically everything from the perspective of a sort of mystified observer. The beauty, the wild world of creation in which Lisey and Scott used to escape, it all has an alien quality to it.

When it’s Lisey and her sisters (Joan Allen and Jennifer Jason Leigh) literally wrestling with a guy in a room, it feels absurd, but I think it’s sort of meant to? After all, this is the story of someone who read too much into fiction and fantasy and couldn’t see what he looked like to other people.

“You’re just a crazed fan,” Lisey spits at Dooley, who thinks he’s special because he could see something in fiction no one else could. Those words cut him like a knife, sending him into a frothing rage.

Making Lisey’s Story extremely modern

King and Larraín updated Lisey’s Story to be about a very specific kind of modern creep. Obviously the idea of a guy who thinks he’s somehow more attuned to the impulse of a work of art or artist is as old as literature or, frankly, fanaticism itself.

But DeHaan’s rendition of Dooley is very much the model of a modern incel. He’s the kind of guy who shouts, “No wife!” as he’s strangling a woman to death. It seems a hair cartoonish but well … these guys are real.

There’s a reason Larraín films Dooley’s pursuit of Lisey in the attic to resemble Buffalo Bill’s pursuit of Clarice Starling in The Silence of the Lambs. Bone-deep misogyny hasn’t gone anywhere. Nor has the feeling that someone’s personal project of living supersedes the lives of everyone they encounter.

Like Silence of the Lambs with an incel

The creative team here slightly rewrote the climax of Lambs — a movie from 1991 that has in every other way beyond the characterization of Bill stood the test of time — to combat a societal ill that does need addressing.

Men like Dooley come in all shapes and sizes. Maybe they’re guys telling you that women “don’t get” whatever art object means the most to them. Or that they don’t have it in them to make art. Maybe they’re guys who are outwardly abusive to the women in their lives.

Whatever the case, the problem of men who want women to feel uncomfortable in their spaces (specifically “nerd” spaces — in this case, the fictional world of a long-dead author) has only gotten worse in the intervening years.

Lisey’s Story also might age into history (we can only hope), but this is nearly the definitive statement on incel culture. Dooley had no idea about the beautiful world created by a man in which he made ample room for his wife because they loved each other. He couldn’t conceive that human connection was the way into the world he coveted most.

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.