Hulu became the latest location on Stephen King’s map of places where creepy shit happens tonight as the much anticipated Castle Rock series premiered on the streaming service. I’ve been a Stephen King fan since I was first able to read the words in his 1983 scare fest Pet Sematary. That book still to this day creeps me the hell out (and I can’t wait to see what they do with the upcoming movie – more on that later).
Castle Rock has been the setting, or appeared in the background, of many of King’s stories including Cujo, Needful Things, The Body, and The Dead Zone. As previously mentioned Needful Things was supposed to be the novel that blew the town off the Maine map, however, the fictional city (almost appropriately named for the mountain fort in Lord of the Flies) has cropped up many times since that book hit the shelves in 1991. Most recently in Doctor Sleep (2013) and even Revival (2014).
Enough about that, let’s get to the good stuff.
First, it’s important to mention that Castle Rock is not at all an adaptation of any of King’s work. It’s more of a smorgasbord of characters and references from the SKU (that’s Stephen King Universe for those of you playing at home). This is good news for fans as his adaptations tend to fall flat and often don’t meet the expectations we have as literary King gurus (the adaptation of Dark Tower still burns…). With the exception of both versions of IT and Pet Sematary, it’s more miss than hit. That being said, Castle Rock the series does a good job of providing fan service with myriad references and nods to characters, situations and locations while at the same time building a thrilling and mysterious storyline. I chalk a lot of that up to the dynamic storytelling explosion we get when you combine two parts King with one part J.J. Abrams. It’s thriller magic.
The series opens in 1991 with Needful Things and Dark Half sheriff Alan Pangborn (Jeffrey Pierce) searching the woods for, what we quickly learn, a young boy who has gone missing. The boy miraculously appears in the middle of a frozen lake, and before we can get any answers we fast forward to 2018 (27 years – just like IT). Here we’re introduced to Shawshank warden Dale Lacey (Terry O’Quinn – thank you J.J.) who decides to go the way of Thelma and Louise (without Louise, and with a noose around his neck tied to a tree…). Enter our new warden who sends her finest to open up a cellblock that’s been closed since “the Christmas fire of 1987”. What they find is Pennywise, I mean, “the kid” (Bill Skarsgård), locked up in a cage inside an empty water tank. He gives the name “Henry Deaver” to the staff of Shawshank, this is important because low-and-behold, Henry Deaver (André Holland) is actually the missing kid from the first scene and now a capital crime lawyer in Texas. Deaver gets a mysterious call from Shawshank about the kid and the name drop and high tails it to his hometown to learn more and catch up with his mom (Sissy Spacek) and her now live-in boyfriend an aged Alan Pangborn (Scott Glenn – don’t get confused, there are lots of flashbacks between Glenn and Pierce). Deaver’s arrival in town is just the beginning of strange things to come. Especially as we find out more and more about Deaver’s status in the town (read – this is not the homecoming we all fantasize about).
I only made it through the first two episodes tonight (they’re about 50 minutes each), with a third that I’ll wrap up tomorrow. In true Hulu fashion, the series will release a single new episode every Wednesday until the finale.
Overall I was very satisfied with the first couple of episodes. They have the mystery of a J.J. Abrams-produced episodic like LOST or Fringe set in the world created and fostered by my hero S.E. King. There are so many nods to the SKU throughout that I sat in a constant state of geekgasm – the mention of “the body by the tracks” (The Body), “the strangler” (Dead Zone) or “the rabid dog” (Cujo) where fun Easter eggs. My favorite was a newspaper clipping about “Shopkeeper missing after oddity store fire” (Needful Things). I’m one that falls for this fan service over and over again.
The story is solid so far, and I’m looking forward to seeing where they go with it. The characters and settings make me a little homesick (I’m from a small town in Maine) – I don’t know where they’re filming this however they’re nailing New England and coastal Maine pretty hard. I’m also impressed by some of the Maine accents they have going on there. More often than not, movies that take place in Maine, end up having actors attempt this effed up southern accent meets alocholic thing that just ruins it for me. I didn’t get that at all here – so accent coach, whoever you are, well done.
One of the things I’m not crazy about is the soundtrack. With Abrams coming off the success of Star Wars: The Force Awakens I think he’s trying to create the magic that only John Williams can make in telling a story through music in a Star Wars film. The soundtrack for Castle Rock is heavy and over done and I think the mystery could be enhanced with some silence. There wasn’t a quiet moment at all. Nit picky I know, but music is so important to this medium and if it’s not done right or well it can really screw things up.