Castle Rock builds upon a vast universe, creating more mysteries but does not provide any answers.
Castle Rock is a supernatural mystery horror drama series based on the enormous Multiverse of Stephen King’s novels. With its roots steady in this universe we see some familiar characters, new ones that are tight to all too familiar characters, but without recreating an already existing Stephen King story, this series creates a totally new story.
This is the first season of an anthology series, that takes place in the fictional town of Castle Rock, a well-known place to Stephen King fans. It tells the story of a mysterious Kid and introduces us to the deadly town. Although it’s not required to have seen all Stephen King’s films and series or have read all of his books (you’ll be quite busy for the next few years), it’s of course more fun if you know already a bit about his Multiverse that he has created over the years. But without any knowledge about Stephen King’s stories, Castle Rock can be a stand-alone compelling supernatural horror drama.
This first season consists of 10 episodes with each a duration of 35-60 minutes. It has a continuous storyline about Henry Deaver and his connection to the mysterious Kid.
After many years Henry Deaver is called back to his hometown Castle Rock when they find a strange young man imprisoned in an abandoned wing in the Shawshank prison. Nobody seems to know who this Kid is, where he came from, all he said was Henry Deaver’s name. So Henry is called to act as his lawyer.
But his homecoming is not a very welcoming one. His mother Ruth suffers from Alzheimers and the former sheriff Alan Pangborn has moved in. The townspeople are still suspicious of Henry who as a 12 year-old boy supposedly ran away into the woods in the middle of winter, which caused his father’s death. His father Matthew was a beloved minister of the local church. Henry himself went missing for 11 days, before he was found in the middle of the frozen Castle Lake by Alan Pangborn. He can’t remember what happened, he still can’t but everybody blames him for Matthew’s death.
Now the mystery is stirred up again, even more so by a reunion with his former neighbor Molly Strand. But The Kid seems to be tied to Henry’s disappearance as well and he maybe more sinister than suspected.
Why you should watch it
Who has read Stephen King novels, the storytelling will be very familiar. Some characters even are already existing characters like Alan Pangborn or are connected to infamous characters like Jackie Torrance. Who has read a lot of Stephen King stories will find some easter eggs hidden throughout the episodes. But it’s a series that can be watched without ever having read one single story of Stephen King.
The series is slow paced, while creating a lot of mystery and every episode adds some new mysteries without giving any answers. It creates a foreboding atmosphere, maybe even apocalyptic, that lurks in the background, never fully put to use. It is cause for a compelling story but it also results in the characters playing mere functional parts instead of being explored, while some episodes feel like a little story in itself. It therefore can feel a bit unhinged, especially when two new characters are introduced causing some mayhem, but are of no considerate importance whatsoever, and very briefly residents to boot.
Molly is a very interesting character, but stays rather on the surface except for her special gift, that plays an important function that could have been more explored. That gift is also cause for some pretty creepy scenes where she hallucinates the bandaged Matthew. Henry himself is a rather uninteresting character around whom the story is built. While Jackie is a very interesting character she’s underused, and pops up to be very functional to the story. The only one whose character is more explored is Ruth, Henry’s mother. Her part is heartbreaking and adds real drama that is enthralling and delivers a very impressive episode. The Kid is the most elusive character, but that’s all he will ever be, for now.
Although it’s an anthology series and the buildup is excellently done, building towards an outstanding ending, that ending never falls through. The ending leaves us with even more questions and speculations and isn’t satisfying at all, and also a bit underwhelming. While sometimes not answering all of our questions can create a great story, this however leaves the viewer unsatisfied and feels like being robbed of something spectacular. This is after all a mystery horror series, and with no mysteries conclusively solved, it feels rather disappointing.
It still is a wonderfully made series, that looks amazing, with a dark atmosphere and ominous tone, full with mystery and questions that are piling up. But it can also be a buildup towards something even bigger, and this was only the beginning and an introduction to Castle Rock and the real horror has yet to begin.
My favorite part
The episode that stood out by far was the episode dealing with Ruth’s Alzheimers. It was so amazingly and sincerely done. Exceptional storytelling, gripping, tragic and sad and heartbreaking, and it really dove into her mind, with supernatural force that truly felt like how Stephen King would have written it. With compassion and horror, with some smart meaningful things, like the chess pieces, it was a little story on its own, that truly explored her character in the past and present.
Thrill factor: ★★★☆☆
Gruesome factor: ★★★☆☆
Originality factor: ★★★☆☆
Entertainment factor: ★★★★☆
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Cast and crew
Castle Rock is created by Sam Shaw and Dustin Thomason. It stars André Holland (Henry Deaver), Melanie Lyskey (Molly Strand), Sissy Spacek (Ruth Deaver), Jane Levy (Diane “Jackie” Torrance), Scott Glenn (Alan Pangborn) and Bill Skarsgård (The Kid).
Music: Chris Westlake, Thomas Newman. Cinematography: Richard Rutkowski, Jeffrey Greeley. Production companies: Bad Robot Productions, Old Curiosity Shop, Darkbloom, Warner Bros. Television. Original network: Hulu.