Castle Rock. It’s only a small imaginary town in Maine, right?
The imagination that gave birth to the little town belongs to none other than Stephen King, however, so rest assured that “ordinary” this place is not. Like other locales the author has created over the years, the quaint homes and smiling inhabitants of Castle Rock know the truth of the dangers that lie in the dark.
It has witnessed the horrors of Needful Things and survived the arrival of George Stark in The Dark Half, after all, and that’s quite a lot on its own, but Hulu’s brand new series, aptly titled Castle Rock, seeks to dig deeper into the quiet town and the ties that bind it together and to the rest of King’s universe.
As such, it’s a veritable repository of Easter Eggs for fans of King’s novels and short stories, some, not all, of which will be talked about here. (We have to leave something for you to find, right?)
It all begins at Shawshank Prison…
Yes, that Shawshank Prison. Warden Dale Lacy (Terry O’Quinn) is being forced into retirement from his post after decades of faithful service. The next day, he wakes up, spends a little time with his wife, and then goes out to the local quarry and kills himself in one of the most brutal ways I’ve ever witnessed on television.
Naturally, everyone is shocked until prison guards discover a young man (Bill Skarsgard) who has been kept by Lacy in what could reasonably be called an oubliette in an abandoned ward of the prison.
After they clean him up, he will only speak the words “Henry Deaver” which just happens to be the name of a lawyer (Andre Holland) who grew up in Castle Rock and who was at the center of his own mystery in his youth there. He now travels the country fighting for the rights of those who have been sentenced to death.
Deaver, of course, returns home to find that things are not as he left them.
His adoptive mother Ruth (Sissy Spacek), who is suffering from the onset of dementia, is living with former Sheriff Alan Pangborn (Scott Glenn). If Alan Pangborn sounds familiar to you, it’s because he was the sheriff of Castle Rock when the devilish Leland Gaunt opened his antique shop there and the character has previously been played on the big screen by Michael Rooker in The Dark Half and Ed Harris in the film adaptation of Needful Things.
Deaver soon finds himself in the midst of an ever-growing mystery with the unlikely and often unwanted aid of his former neighbor, Molly Strand (Melanie Lynskey), who just happens to be psychically gifted.
Executive producer J.J. Abrams and a stellar writing team including Sam Shaw have painstakingly researched King’s body of work creating an atmosphere and story from the author’s building blocks that feels like it could have been created from his own hand.
Some of the aforementioned Easter Eggs are pretty blatant. The latest trailer gives us a glimpse of Juniper Hill Asylum, for instance.
Readers of King’s novels will remember the hospital from its mention in several of King’s books. Henry Bowers (IT), Nettie Cobb (Needful Things), Raymond Joubert the Space Cowboy (Gerald’s Game), and Charles Pickering (Insomnia) were all patients at Juniper Hill.
Others are pretty well hidden in character surnames, old newspaper headlines, and lines of dialogue that only the active listener will catch which is further proof of the creative team’s dedication to the material.
A measured portion of the success of the series comes in its casting. Many of the actors and actresses involved are no stranger to Stephen King adaptations, and they bring a certain level of expertise in interpretation of his work to their acting here.
Sissy Spacek, of course, is the Carrie White from de Palma’s 1978 film version of Carrie, and her Ruth is the epitome of vulnerable matriarchal strength, holding onto the life she’s known even as it fades in her memory.
Bill Skarsgard, meanwhile, creates a character that is more sinister and terrifying than even his role as Pennywise the Clown in last year’s IT adaptation. There is something unnerving in his wide-eyed faux innocence as the as yet unnamed “Shawshank prisoner”. He needs no flashy makeup or razor sharp teeth here.
His stare alone will do you in and the effect he has on those around him will leave you speechless by the end of episode four.
And then there’s Melanie Lynskey who many will remember from her starring turn in King’s epic haunted house mini-series “Rose Red”. Lynskey plays Molly in a way that is both endearing and cringeworthy as we watch her self-medicate in an attempt to tone down her telepathic abilities and we sympathize with the fact that she is inextricably drawn to Henry Deaver, no matter how hard she tries to fight their connection.
Andre Holland as Henry is central to the series, of course, and while this is the actor’s first foray into the world of Stephen King, it is hardly his first appearance in the genre. Among his many credits, he appeared in “American Horror Story: Roanoke” and his performance on Castle Rock is both layered and believable.
Of course, as in any good King story, the town itself is a character all its own, and viewers are never given a moment to forget that its shadows hide secrets that are most certainly darker than your own hometown…or are they?
That’s the ultimate beauty of a Stephen King story, you see. Any little faceless town could be Castle Rock with its peculiar denizens, scary ghost stories, and enough scandal to tire out the most dedicated small-town gossip.
Much like the town of Castle Rock, itself, the series seems to hold its breath amidst the tension of its own story as if waiting for the worst to happen. Each scene builds upon the last, slowly creating a mystery that begs to be solved even as the audience fears the solution.
Castle Rock is set to debut on Hulu on July 25, 2018. Check out the new trailer below!