Look, I love Bill Skaarsgard so much. He is hella spooky looking and does not match his name at all, but he is incredibly talented. So when I saw he was in another horror show (he formerly starred in the Netflix gore fest that was Hemlock Grove), I thought – sure – I’ll give him another try. I already watched three seasons of a different show that didn’t go anywhere with him in it, and this is only ten episodes!
Castle Rock is a Hulu original with so much potential. Castle Rock, Maine is the background for several of King’s works, including the Dead Zone, another of Stephen King’s novels turned show that fell wildly short of expectations. The premise is simple: Why is this town so cursed? The answering show is anything BUT simple. The main character of the show is a death row lawyer who supposedly killed his father after going missing for eleven days as a child (Andre Holland). The antagonist of the series is a kid kept in captivity for 27 years without aging (Skaarsgard). There is a kind mother with Alzheimer’s stuck without a sense of time (Sissy Spacek). A dead preacher. A prison run by a corrupt corporate entity. A woman with anxiety stemming from an “undiagnosed psychic affliction” (Melanie Lynskey). Buzzing in the background is literally the sound of the universe. The thread pulling the series together is a screenplay that was honestly just completely misdirected.
The show starts with a grizzly suicide, and the gory details continue from there. As King can spend pages of exposition on the bloody and macabre, so does the show give the gruesome in full force. All of those bones and sinews hint at a dark secret, an evil force wrenching its way through the town. We even get hints of the mythological through Spacek’s character as she fixates on memorizing the Norse gods.
When we finally DO get an answer to the mystery of the cursed town, the answer is not horrific or mythic in nature but wildly metaphysical and irrelevant to the rest of the plot line. Intense, unpleasant images in a horror setting demonstrate a wrongness and an evilness within the antagonist of the plot. When those images don’t serve as a plot device, the added scenes of gore give the impression of a prop department run by the kid who used to burn ants with a magnifying glass. The creative director behind Castle Rock guaranteed killed a shit ton of ants.
The incredibly high body count in the show supposedly stems from the misalignment within the kid from captivity. There is a death in every episode and at least twenty at the series’ height of gore in the first twist. Through the voice over dialogue of the dead warden (Terrry O’Quinn) the kid is played as the literal devil forcing the hand of the murderers. The voice of God is said to be behind his kidnapping and imprisonment. The writer chooses to leave it ambiguous as to whether or not his captor was divinely inspired or insane. Fine. I can handle that. But then that same voice of God turns out to be the sound of the universe that only some people can hear? Then it turns out that the kid creates violence through no fault of his own? Where did the original rumors of the sounds come from? Where did we get the idea that this kid was evil?
And while we are talking about the nonsensical plot given to Skaarsgard – the same “kid” is at one point supposed to be fortyish years old? Was Skaarsgard just incredibly poor casting or did they not know where the plot was going when they cast the show? For the central character of the plot, there are so many details missing. If the ending of the first season wasn’t enough to show that the writers didn’t treat Skaarsgard’s character with any care – the sloppy creation of him as a person is certainly enough to seal the sentiment.
I could do a similar discussion on the holes behind basically every character in the series. Henry Deaver is a man whose life obviously fell apart, but we get no information on how that came to be. We hear the rumors of him as a child, but don’t get any answers as to where his family thought he was the entire time he was missing. At one point, Henry blatantly asks his mother for answers and she refuses. I don’t think this was a character choice. I think this was a lack of imagination on the screenwriter’s part. The answer to that question reveals so much about Henry’s place in his family, and it is one of many answers the viewer is denied.
In my intense dislike of this show, I understand that I am in a minority opinion. There are mysteries and suspense and a sense of dread woven expertly into each episode. The stunts and the murders create a chaotic energy that draws viewers into the vortex of Castle Rock. I watched it not only because I wanted to review it, but because I wanted answers goddamnit. But when I got them, the emotional payoff fell so short of my expectations I turned an even more critical eye over the past ten hours of my life. When there are enigmatic shows like OA out for viewing pleasure, why would you settle for a show that barely answers the main question and doesn’t do it very creatively when it does? I’d say treat this like the majority of King’s canon. Skip.