Castle Rock is a horror series that plays on themes, characters and locations found in Stephen King’s novels. While two seasons were out on Hulu in 2018 and 2019, the first just dropped on Netflix. The show follows the inhabitants of the fictional town Castle Rock. The two main characters are Henry Deaver (André Holland) and a Shawshank Prison inmate simply known as The Kid (Bill Skarsgård, who also played Pennywise in the film adaptation of Stephen King’s It). Henry, the main protagonist for much of the series, returns to his hometown to confront his past. His repressed memories of a mysterious incident in the woods that killed his adoptive father, and his fractured family life owing to his dementia-ridden mother (Sissy Spacek, who played the titular role in Carrie) make for a less than comfortable homecoming.
A great cast is wasted
The show has great actors playing characters reminiscent of the haunted protagonists and creepy small town folk that inhabit many of Stephen King’s stories (no sign of any recovering alcoholic authors so far, though). Skarsgård, in particular, delivers an unnerving portrayal of The Kid. However, throughout Castle Rock’s first four or five episodes, none of these fine actors do much of anything besides gape at each other, saying vaguely ominous or introspective things until one of them begrudgingly blurts out exposition.
All the elements are there
What the series does have going for it is that the world and its inhabitants do feel like they’ve come from the mind of Stephen King. The world of the series does feel like a lived-in one, complete with the sense of rural foreboding that King musters in his fiction.
However, the plot is ambiguous, slow-burning and often confusing. Big questions loom over every carefully crafted scene, but the show is bloated with ideas that go nowhere. For instance, the story prompts many thought-provoking ideas about good and evil. Is the town haunted or are the people just bad? Does god have a plan for townsfolk? These are some of the weighty questions the show invites viewers to ponder over, but it doesn’t give them much in the way of any satisfactory exploration. It’s interesting that the show comes from executive producer JJ Abrams, who also brought us LOST, a show that leaves viewers hanging with its questions in a similar manner.
WATCH OR NOT
Castle Rock is a series that could have been truly great. It has a cast packed with acting powerhouses, interesting ideas and meticulous world-building. Ultimately, all this potential proves to be wasted by terrible pacing and dull writing.
Creators: Sam Shaw, Dustin Thomason
Cast: Bill Skarsgård, André Holland, Melanie Lynskey
Seasons: 2 (2020)
Streaming on: Netflix