What am I talking about this time: Hulu’s Castle Rock
Executive producer: J. J. Abrams
Created By Sam Shaw & Dustin Thomason
Characters and settings by Stephen King
André Holland, Bill Skarsgård, Melanie Lynskey, Noel Fisher, Sissy Spacek, Scott Glenn
Overall Review: 4 out of 5 Unnervingly Smiling Stephen Kings
Is It Worth a Hulu subscription and 45min of Your time? Hells Yeah!
Spoiler Free Review: From all of the ads and trailers, this show was being pushed as an insane menagerie of all the horrors from all the Stephen King novels, all apparently happening at the same time around the infamous town of Castle Rock.
This is seemingly the show that was promised to us.
This is NOT the show we got.
The show we got is a linear mystery steeped in tension, dark secrets, and slight mysticism.
And, praise be to the King of Kings… it is fantastic!!!
The show is not a series of events from Stephen King books, rather a completely new tale, one, told in a style eerily similar to the King’s novels, but with a unique plot all it’s own. There’s a mystery, a weird town, some crazy characters, and an every-man at the center of it all. It’s simple and compelling with great performances, cinematography, and writing. They’ve incorporated many elements from Stephen King’s books into the show, but they are flares and touches, nothing that seems to effect the main plot directly We see literal pages from the novels in the opening credits, fleeting shots of newspaper clippings referencing infamous King related events in the backgrounds of scenes, and deeper cuts like characters that share names from other King stories, but nothing more. This show stands on it’s own if you are a King fanatic or horror newbie.
(If you are looking for an Easter Egg Hunt, we’ll get into that in a later article).
I’m a long term Stephen King fan, so I think I can say with some authority that his books and TV haven’t really gotten along but this show changes that, offering King a crown to the small-screen kingdom he has sought for so long.
There is a palpable tension in every shot, and although some people have called it a “Slow Burn”, I would disagree, episodes are well paced for a mystery like this (Especially for a JJ Abrams mystery), adding new elements to the main arc all the time, rather than filling time with enlarged sub-plots and B-Stories. There’s a smooth shift in character focus that also helps keep the train moving. The acting is also solid, without a weak link in sight, but the tone and tension of every scene is the star of this show, sliding along the horror scale from creepy to odd to suddenly gory with a fluid, almost imperceptible ease.
There is a small flaw at the beginning of episode 1 and again at the beggining of episode 2 that kept these episodes from perfection, but the continual quality of the show more than makes up for it. We’ll discuss these issues in the recap, but the successes certainly outweigh the fails.
In brief, episode 1 is the creepy set-up, somehow encapsulating a Stephen King Novel he’s never written in streaming/TV form and Episode 2 adds layers of the mystic, and sets a tone of tension that never falters.
Let’s get into this series, shall we?
S1, Ep1 “Severance” 25 Jul. 2018 Directed by Michael Uppendahl Writing by Sam Shaw & Dustin Thomason
In the winter of 1991, Officer Alan Pangborn finds Henry Deaver in the woods near Castle Rock after being missing for 11 days.
In 2018, the Warden of Shawshank Prison, Dale Lacy (Terry O’Quinn), kills himself by tying a noose around his neck and the other end to a tree, than driving off a cliff. This shot is one of the few that felt off. The lead in to the moment is played straight and sincere, intimidating in this man’s mundane attitude toward his own suicide. But when he accelerates, the cut from the rope to the car flying off the cliff feels out of sync, like a shot was missing in between them.This had me worried, but the reminder of the episode proved formidable enough to almost erase this moment from my mind.
Later, the New Warden (Ann Cusack) orders an inspection of an unused, decrepit cell block within the Prison. Guard Dennis Zalewski (Noel Fisher) investigates the area, finding a hatch that leads down to a hidden area where a kid, The Kid (Bill Skarsgård) is being kept in a cage. After a medical examination, the warden asks The Kid his name and he says, “Henry Deaver.”As another guard explains, he is not Henry Deaver.
Henry Deaver (André Holland) is now a lawyer for capital cases, in court he tries to save a woman, but her death sentence is carried out. Something goes wrong after they give her the deadly cocktail and she comes back, only to have Henry shut-out as they attempt to re-kill her. This sequence is manically edited and is as jarring as the dramatic content within it. Afterwards, viewers are left as shaken as Henry is. And in that moment, he receives an anonymous call from Zalewski, who overheard the Warden and her flunky debating on what to do with the Kid. They were leaning more towards covering the incident up.
We then meet Molly Strand (Melanie Lynskey) buying prescription drugs off a high school kid. As she drives though town (popping a pill on route), she sees Henry get off the bus and bolts before he can see her.
As Henry walks through the town, we see that businesses are failing and people seem to hate him. We learn that his father died shortly after he was found as a kid. Upon returning home in the present, his mom (Sissy Spacek) has a form of dementia that comes and goes and Alan Pangborn (Scott Glenn) is living with her (AKA they are doing it retirement home style).
Henry visits the prison and the warden says they have no record of The Kid.
We find out that back in 1991, Henry’s preacher dad was found in the woods near death with a broken everything, supposedly looking for his son. When Henry showed back up days after, he died and the town blamed Henry.
Back at the prison, Zalewski is on monitor duty and he sees that the kid got out of his cell, leaving a wake of dead and bloody prison guards in his path. Meanwhile, Henry goes to the woods where a creepy, younger version of himself seems to be stalking him.
In a final flashback, we see that the original warden told The Kid to ask for Henry when he was found.
Keep clickin’ for the Episode 2 Recap