Based on a novel by author Joe Hill (son of Stephen and Tabitha King), AMC’s new horror series NOS4A2 is unfortunately not very good. However, it seems marginally more interesting to look at it as a really f’ed up retelling of The Polar Express.
In the middle of the night, a young boy is lured from his house by the sound of Christmas music, leading to a mysterious vehicle outside his front door that shouldn’t be there (in this case, a classic Rolls Royce Wraith). A strange conductor ushers him inside, feeds him treats, and promises to convey him north to “Christmasland.”
What is this, other than the dark subtext of Chris Van Allsburg’s classic children’s book (and the ensuing movie version by Robert Zemeckis) made literal? For all its holiday cheer and magical wonder, The Polar Express has always really been the story of a dumbass child who runs off with strangers. It’s just that in this version, one of the kidnappers murders his negligent mother in front of him.
Also, the driver is named Mr. Manx.
Manx… Hanks… Yeah, you see it now.
Zachary Quinto, buried under ghoulish makeup, plays the vampiric and gnarled Mr. Manx. The further north he drives, all the while promising Christmastime delights, the younger and more revitalized he gets from draining life force from the boy, Daniel, who gets sicker and more withered.
In Daniel’s home town of Here, Iowa, a teen girl named Maggie (Jahkara Smith) tries to search for the boy using voodoo and magic Scrabble tiles.
Meanwhile, across the country in Haverhill, MA (which you can tell is near Bahhsten from the friggin’ hilarious way everybody tahhks), an unrelated townie girl named Vic (Ashleigh McQueen) spends the summer working for her mom cleaning rich people’s houses. Vic has dreams of going to art school, which her mother (Virginia Kull) quashes as unrealistic at every opportunity. Only her dad (Ebon Moss-Bachrach) is supportive, but Vic’s idealized image of him is shattered when she learns that he’s an abusive drunk.
One day, Vic rides her dirt bike into the woods and comes across a rickety covered bridge she doesn’t remember. As she approaches it, she gets a serious migraine, but some graffiti inside directs her to find a credit card her mother had lost. Later, she learns that the bridge had been torn down fifteen years earlier. It turns out that the bridge is a magical portal that can lead her to find other missing things, such as her dad’s watch, or even the dad himself when he abandons the family to run off with a floozie.
Crossing the bridge makes Vic disoriented and sick, unfortunately. It also triggers psychic visions of what she doesn’t realize are Mr. Manx and Daniel. Manx can sense the magical connection as well, and announces that he’s going to head to Haverhill just as soon as he drops Daniel off at Christmasland.
Episode Verdict / Grade: C
I haven’t read the book it’s based on, but the TV version of NOS4A2 is a collection of dumb horror tropes executed with competence but no particular flair. The Vic character is somewhat appealing, but not enough to convince me to watch any more of the show. Subscribers to the AMC Premiere subscription service can already binge the whole season now. One episode was enough for me.