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‘Saint X’ Review: Hulu’s Adaptation of Acclaimed Alexis Schaitkin Novel Comes Up Short


In a moment of emotional crisis, Alison (West Duchovny) blurts out the suspicion weighing on her to a stranger in the bathroom: “Am I generic?” she sobs. And though the stranger assures her she isn’t, Saint X takes a more nuanced position.

On premise, the series seems like a pretty standard take on the dead white girl story, with Alison’s eventual unexplained death being the mystery at the heart of the plot. But as with the 2020 Alexis Schaitkin novel it’s based on, it turns those tropes on their head by offering a kaleidoscope of perspectives that rethink what kind of storytelling we expect from tragedies like this, and who gets to take center stage. standing – or at least that’s the intention. . Unfortunately, an accumulation of minor clumsiness leaves what could have been a penetrating subversion of a familiar story feel instead more like a replication of it.

Saint X

It comes down to

Ambitious ideas undone by unambitious execution.

broadcast date: Wednesday, April 26 (Hulu)
Form: Alycia Debnam-Carey, Josh Bonzie, Jayden Elijah, West Duchovny, Bre Francis, Kenlee Anaya Townsend, Betsy Brandt, Michael Park
Creator: Leila Gerstein

Adapted for TV by Leila Gerstein, Saint X unfolds mainly over two timelines. In the early 2000s, the Thomases – father Bill (Michael Park), mother Mia (Betsy Brandt), 7-year-old Claire (Kenlee Anaya Townsend) and 18-year-old Alison – descend on the titular island for a week of family fun, but their dream vacation turns into a nightmare when Alison goes missing the night before their scheduled return to Westchester. Meanwhile, in the 2020s, one night Claire – now by Emily and played by Alycia Debnam-Carey – gets into a cab driven by Clive Richardson (Josh Bonzie), one of the men suspected but never convicted for Alison’s murder. In the months that follow, she begins to stalk him and then work her way into his life, increasingly consumed with the idea that only he can give her the answers about her sister that have eluded her for so long.

Of its two halves, Saint X does much better in its resort material. While the depiction of the titular island lacks the rich detail that made Schaitkin’s version jump off the page, it benefits from a curiosity about the supporting characters surrounding the central players. It also shows a bracing willingness to delve into the uncomfortable conversations about race, class and gender raised by the unequal dynamic between the privileged tourists and the hotel workers who attend to their every need – piña coladas and towels, but also the excitement of a flirty smile or the ego boost of a lavish compliment. Dee Rees (Pariah), who helmed the first episode, shows a firm understanding of a perspective that jumps back and forth between the guests and the help, and an eye for silent but charged glances passing between or between them.

The queen of the tourist set is Alison, played by Duchovny with a brash accent that somehow makes the character corpses like she always snaps her gum, even though she never actually chews gum. Beautiful and outgoing, Alison tends to arouse adoration, desire, resentment or a combination thereof in the people she meets.

She’s also, we quickly learn, deeply insecure and maddeningly unconscious – a white girl so determined to prove she’s not like the other white dudes that she can’t see how that very instinct has turned her into yet another clueless white guy. makes. During the bus ride, she loudly berates her parents for the “hypocrisy” of booking a luxury vacation on “an island where people don’t even have a solid roof over their heads.” It’s not until the driver replies with a mild “Ma’am, on our island the people are well fed and happy” that she even seems to consider whether she’s projecting her own condescending assumptions onto a people and place she doesn’t know. all.

Her ultimate attempt to get an “authentic” experience out of her resort trip is her romantic pursuit of Clive’s charismatic best friend Edwin (a beaming Jayden Elijah). But when Edwin sees through Alison’s pretensions (“She’s the funniest white guy you’ve landed yet. So serious. So important to yourself,” his friend laughs after witnessing one of their interactions), he’s got his own reasons for harboring her affection are gradually revealed throughout the season’s eight-hour chapters. Still, the simple fact that Edwin and Clive were among the last people seen with Alison will cast an air of suspicion around them long after the local police chief has ruled her death an accident, much as Emily’s grief remains decades later. always chasing. Alice’s death.

In Emily and Clive, Saint X serves up two characters whose lives were completely derailed by Alison’s death, and understandably they can’t help but be haunted by the questions and regrets that have haunted them ever since. (Clive sometimes manifests as a goat woman haunting his nightmares, in a needless detour to full-blown horror.) But where scenes set in the past allow the characters to transcend their current predicament – with frequent flashbacks, for example, to formative moments from Edwin and Clive’s childhood – the current sequences feel artless in their determination. Clumsy dialogue and overbearing music cues Saint X from “downmarket white Lotus” to “downmarket Law & Order: SVU.”

“I’m going to make sure he trusts me. Like he got her to trust him,” Emily announces in one of the show’s more groaningly obvious lines. But the sickening chemistry between Clive and Emily is undermined by the series’ disinterest in moving beyond the scars left the night Alison died. Bonzie might give Saint X‘s most moving performance as the elderly Clive, a man so stricken with despair that he moves through his own life like a ghost. But the need to cover up what he really did that night necessarily keeps him at bay for most of the series. Debnam-Carey, meanwhile, does a good job of modulating Emily’s gradual decline, but is all too often reduced to shouting variations on the same ideas about how nothing matters but finding out how Alison died.

Her obsessive search for answers seems to be a commentary on how stories like Alison’s are consumed and what we expect from them. And Saint X finally lands on a definitive answer that feels thoughtfully, deliberately anticlimactic. With the very last scene, which has nothing to do with Alison at all, the series aims to change our understanding of what kind of story we’ve been watching all along. But it feels like a little too little, a little too late. This turns out to be a story that revolves primarily around Alison – and while it may not be as generic as Alison herself fears, it also fails to break the boundaries of its genre.

Merry C. Vega is a highly respected and accomplished news author. She began her career as a journalist, covering local news for a small-town newspaper. She quickly gained a reputation for her thorough reporting and ability to uncover the truth.

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