The first thing you should know about HBO's new limited series is that it makes Jason Bateman's role in Ozark look like Peppa Pig. It's difficult to overstate the shock of seeing this clean-cut American treasure emerging from a forest, drenched in blood and holding a stare that could prompt hell to freeze over—but it does give you some idea of the unrelenting nature of The Outsider.
The 10-part adaptation of Stephen King's best-selling 2018 novel premieres Jan. 12. And judging from a press preview screening of the first two episodes, it's seeped in all that makes King's literature so beloved: small town wholesomeness rubbing up against a seedy underworld, mundane family life invaded by frightening forces and calm, rational adults trying to wrestle with deeply mysterious circumstances.
At the center of The Outsider is the gruesome murder of a child, and a suspect standing next to a mountain of evidence that simultaneously exonerates him and confirms his guilt. Can someone be in two places at once? Do doppelgängers exist? Or is a supernatural third party involved? The Outsider sets up these questions early on and leaves them hanging tantalizingly in the air.
Searing scenes from the two episodes further hammer home the King-ian dichotomies at play. A mom smashes up a table of quaint finger foods with a baseball bat; an average Joe dog-walker finds a scene of abject, bloody horror in the woods; a sweet-faced little girl stares into the corner of her empty room and insists a man is there. These kinds of juxtapositions set a tone that is both deeply unsettling and thoroughly compelling.