Fans of Stephen King’s back catalogue have no doubt been counting down the days until the arrival of Castle Rock. Landing on Hulu on 25 July (a UK broadcaster has not been announced so far), the series will not be based on a specific King property but will instead revolve around the town of Castle Rock, a fictional burg that crops up in numerous stories by the author. The first season will comprise of ten episodes and as the show has been billed as an anthology it looks likely that the first season will be a self-contained story.
King himself is not directly involved in the show’s production, though he has been regularly consulted by executive producer JJ Abrams. Abrams is on record as being a huge King fan and thankfully, the author has given the series his seal of approval following a viewing of its pilot.
Other than the fact that it isn’t based on a specific King book, details on the plot have been kept largely under-wraps. With the first few episodes having now been released for review however, the finer details have started to emerge. It’s very much a new tale and a fresh take, but at the same time a series with embraces several distinctly Kingian themes.
The central plot will revolve around an incident at a certain Shawshank penitentiary, where a young man has appeared seemingly from nowhere in a secret underground tank. This creepy prisoner, known as “The Kid”, is played by Bill Skarsgard, a notable King alumnus thanks to his unforgettable turn as Pennywise the Clown in last year’s It.
Nobody seems too sure how The Kid got there in the first place and he won’t speak a word other than to give one name, Henry Deaver (Andre Holland). Henry is a former resident of Castle Rock who is now a successful death-row attorney. He hasn’t returned to his hometown since a childhood tragedy sullied his young name.
A lot of the early episodes revolve around the question of who this mysterious prisoner is and why he has said Henry’s name. Naturally, this being a show made in the mould of King’s work, that’s just the start of it the mystery that slowly unravels.
Central to the show’s darkness however is the town of Castle Rock itself. Seemingly a strange hub of all things evil, it’s unclear exactly what is causing the inherent darkness at the town’s core.
Skarsgard looms large over the trailer and his unsettling presence is key to kicking off this wave of strange happenings in the town. The actor was unforgettably disturbing in It and here again he provides an unnerving but utterly captivating turn at the film’s centre. Holland meanwhile shone in Moonlight and here he has being receiving plenty of praise for his balanced turn as the returning outsider who doesn’t quite fit in back in his hometown.
While Skarsgard and Deaver are the two most prominent characters in the opening few episodes, the show is still something of an ensemble piece. The town of Castle Rock is brought to life thanks to a cast of fully fleshed out characters, each with their own problems and demons lurking in their past.
Another cast member who has previously found fame in a Stephen King adaptation is none other than Carrie herself, Sissy Spacek. Spacek appear as Ruth Deaver, Henry’s adoptive mother who is battling dementia.
There’s a former JJ Abrams alumnus involved in the show too in the form of Lost’s Terry O’Quinn. O’Quinn appears as Dale Lacy, the warden of Shawshank Penitentiary. Melanie Lynskey plays neurotic real estate developer Molly Strand, while cult favourite Scott Glenn is also onboard. Glenn plays former Castle Rock Sheriff Alan Pangborn, a recurring King character who cropped up in the likes of The Dark Half and Needful Things.
King universe references
Pangborn’s presence is an obvious tip off that there will be characters appearing in the series who have featured elsewhere in Stephen King’s writing. Likewise, recognisable locales such as Shawshank and Juniper Hill Asylum will also be involved. Castle Rock has appeared in numerous King stories, and some of them will be directly reference on the show, with the events Needful Things and Cujo both directly referenced by ongoing events.
It may be as far more subtle nods are also included for eagle eyed fans to pick out, with the town also featuring in the likes of The Dead Zone and The Body, while also referenced in IT, 11/22/63, Gerald’s Game and Doctor Sleep.
What the show will primarily try to do however is spin a mystery all of its own. These nods and winks will help fans connect with the unfolding story, but the showrunners have made it very clear that the show is intended to stand on its own two feet.
Reviews of the show thus far have been largely positive. The consensus appears to be that Castle Rock is more eerie than it is flat-out terrifying. It’s a slow burning affair about lurking evil, an unseen malevolence that will reveal itself in due course. In other words, it’s classic Stephen King.
The show won’t rush to reveal its secrets, after all it’s also a JJ Abrams offering as well lest we forget. However given its set ten episode arc, one can expect plenty of unexpected revelations along the way.
Expect chills aplenty as Castle Rock’s mysteries begin to unfold on 25 July.