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Castle Rock Review – Stephen King Brings It All Together

Stephen King has a strange history when it comes to his work making its way to any video format. While some films are widely regarded as classics of the horror genre, others are downright goofy. The strangest part of this is that whether any film is generally considered good or bad, or if the television efforts win fans or fizzle out, none of them seem to completely deliver on some “King-ness” that is crucial to the popularity of his books. Castle Rock is here to rectify that situation… sort of.

Amid the creepy lighting and odd use of cameras and angles, the paranormal jumps and chilly atmosphere that leaks out of the screen, Castle Rock grabs you most with its least noteworthy efforts. The story may be about rather bizarre events, and the fact that the devil may be in play isn’t even necessarily the creepiest among them, but the show won’t let you look away because there are characters you can’t help but feel trapped with. The premise may be that this town is riddled with supernatural madness, but what the show is about is people continually thrust into circumstances with no idea how to respond, and that is a ride that won’t let you off.

Whether it’s a prison guard who is suddenly faced with an unknown “prisoner” in a cage, or a man returning home to find that someone has moved in with his aging mother, the show bombards us with characters who simply have no idea what to do. From the creepiest of situations to the most mundane, the show concocts a wide range of degrees within this particular move to unnerve you, and they all appear aimed at removing the mainstay options of fear, fight or flight, and that’s how you get trapped in the adventure yourself.

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courtesy Hulu – Photo Credit: Patrick Harbron

The show takes place in the mythical town of Castle Rock, Maine, and follows the town’s bizarre history (which includes the plots of many of his works), mostly insofar as recent events at the local prison, Shawshank.

We enter the show as the warden of the prison, Dale Lacy (Terry O’Quinn), commits suicide, which opens the door for a new warden to wonder why an entire block of the prison has been empty for three years. This leads to the discovery of a very special prisoner Lacy had in a very special cage.

Now rescued from the confinement, the prisoner only says a name, Henry Deaver. Henry Deaver (André Holland) is a lawyer in Texas, but he’s from Castle Rock, and he’s one of the crazy things that is part of the town’s history. Of course, the prison isn’t sure what to do about the fact that someone was apparently kidnapped and imprisoned within its walls, so a guard makes an anonymous call to Deaver. As much as the general idea of this prisoner is intriguing, Deaver isn’t crazy about going home again.

It’s quickly revealed, as you might expect from King, that our unnamed prisoner was put in a hole because Warden Lacy believed he was the Devil (or whatever malevolent force). If that weren’t enough, Deaver was involved in an incident when he was a young child which resulted in the town believing that he killed his adoptive father.

courtesy Hulu – Photo Credit: Patrick Harbron

Castle Rock is a show that sets up ten different ways to look at everything, and what pulls you in most is poor Deaver, who has to shuffle through all of it. The crazy situation ought to be enough, but Deaver also has to deal with the fact that the cop who found him lost in the woods as a boy has moved in with his mother, who is falling victim to dementia. Moreover, his childhood friend who used to live next door can read people’s minds… sort of.

All of it spins around Deaver, mostly leaving him wishing he could pull himself together enough to only be completely befuddled. According to King, apparently, what’s really scary is just people acting outside accepted social norms. Sure, the show has a haunting setting, and yes, a lot of people get whacked, but that doesn’t hold you week after week. Things are very weird in Castle Rock, but it’s the slightly weird that’s actually intriguing, and plays on fears that people can move with. When a mother suddenly speaks in a tone that makes you think she might start shooting, or someone has a chilling response during an otherwise normal conversation, or corporate entities try to figure out how to cover something up as if talking about whether or not to switch to a new coffee maker in the break room, those are the things that start to make your skin crawl. More importantly, this mix of more mundane oddities manages an audience investment that keeps the truly wild happenings from spinning the whole thing into a campy mess.

The best thing about King’s best works isn’t that they are “good,” but that you can’t put them down. Deavers obviously has to deliver this more than anyone, but the supporting cast fills all the gaps. Fresh off his turn as Pennywise, Bill Skarsgård, gives a performance that’s hard to describe, and certainly hard to describe as challenging, but is as creepy as you could hope for. The gaps fill in with Scott Glenn, Sissy Spacek, and a stunning effort by Noel Fisher as the guard who can’t let things get swept under the rug.

The characters build this monstrous series of machinations in a way that doesn’t overplay the best of the effort, and it ends up rather brilliant. There are two scenes a few episodes in that reveal the power behind what you didn’t even realize was happening. One of them has our prison guard drawing faces, and the other involves our prisoner just sitting there as a family falls apart. After being bombard with scenes of our characters fumbling for a reaction to crazy situations, we now find that there is no character to look bewildered. It’s just us.

Summary
Castle Rock is one of the best efforts to bring Stephen King into your living room, and one of the most binge-worthy shows of the last few years. There aren't many shows that pull you in so fast, and this one manages it by giving a different spin on trying to unnerve you.
9.5
Amazing
Written by
Marc Eastman is the owner and operator of Are You Screening? and has been writing film reviews for over a decade, and several branches of the internet's film review world have seen his name. He is also a member of The Broadcast Film Critics Association and The Broadcast Television Journalists Association.

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