Hulu’s venture into the world of Stephen King, Castle Rock is an exquisitely constructed, slow burn into a world of lies and terror. From the get-go, creators Sam Shaw and Dustin Thomason understand that a staple of King’s novels are their richly-flawed characters. They spend a great deal of time building a universe without shortchanging King’s narrative and allowing for these characters to be fully developed.
“Take any house in this town…every inch is stained with someone’s sin,” says Dale Lacy (Terry O’Quinn), the former warden of Shawshank Prison. The origin of evil in Castle Rock, at first, appears to stem from one person, but in reality, it seeps out of every corner. Shaw and Thomason spend a great deal of time constructing characters making up this strange town and as a result, each has a duality about them. Who can you trust?
As you get into the series, the answer is no one. Had Castle Rock been constructed around a central figure who was evil, the show would have been mediocre. However, Shaw and Thomason masterfully turn up the tension in the subtlest of ways, by playing on the audience’s sensibilities.
Castle Rock focuses on lawyer Henry Deaver (Andre Holland) who returns to his hometown after word of abuse at Shawshank Prison begins to spread. The newly appointed warden (Ann Cusack) is actively seeking a way to increase the amount of space for the prison population. Throughout the course of her search, she discovers a whole wing of the prison is left unused. Why is this? Guards are sent to this older cell block to investigate and find a person in a cage who only answers to “boy” (Bill Skarsgård). Why is he locked in a cage? What did he do to warrant such a punishment?
One of Castle Rock’s greatest strengths is its cast. Sissy Spacek and Skarsgård are veterans of King’s source material. Terry O’Quinn, Melanie Lynskey, Ann Cusack and Frances Conroy round out the cast, for an effective ensemble. The pacing of the show is slow and deliberate, but the use of a non-linear timeline shapes the narrative tone.
My favorite performance from Castle Rock is without question Skarsgård’s. He adds such an eerie vibe to an already twisted story. His body language projects suffering, but “boy” is unable to articulate his past. One can speculate who initially imprisoned him in the unoccupied wing of Shawshank, (Dale Lacy, perhaps?) but no-one denies his supernatural abilities. O’Quinn’s performance is noteworthy as well. While the first episode’s opening sequence is shocking, his character quickly becomes a pseudo-guide into Castle Rock’s twisted world. His voice becomes the soul of what we soon learn is a soulless town.
Castle Rock brings a dream-like quality to each episode. The show is meticulous, but isn’t most great horror that way? Fans of King’s work will appreciate the numerous Easter Eggs found throughout season one. The only negative that stood out in the first three episodes were the scripting. While I understand the need to build a series’ universe, dragging the process out may cause potential fans to bail. It seems odd that the first three episodes were so drawn out while the rest of Castle Rock is so briskly paced.
For fans who stick through the first three episodes, Castle Rock is a show with universal appeal destined to become a staple of Hulu’s lineup.