Hulu's scary 'Castle Rock' will take you deep into Stephen King country

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·Critic-at-Large, Yahoo Entertainment
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Bill Skarsgård in <em>Castle Rock.</em> (Photo: Hulu)
Bill Skarsgård in Castle Rock. (Photo: Hulu)

Castle Rock is a new, original TV series situated in a town familiar to any Stephen King fan. The Maine hamlet of Castle Rock has figured in King novels such as Cujo and Needful Things; it has been mentioned in all the big King books, like The Stand, 11/22/63, and It. Now Castle Rock takes center stage as the setting for this Hulu series, and other writers and producers, headed up by J.J. Abrams, are adding to King’s small-town mythology. “There is a lot of history in this town, and not all of it is good,” says one character, and you know that’s an understatement.

The show stars Andre Holland (The Knick) as Henry Deaver, a lawyer who, as a child, experienced a mysterious traumatic event that left his father dead. The adult Henry comes back home to Castle Rock to visit his stepmother, played by Sissy Spacek — immortal in Stephen King lore, of course, for playing the title role in the 1976 film Carrie. Henry becomes involved in the case of a prisoner in — where else? — Shawshank State Penitentiary. This inmate is played by Bill Skarsgård — yes, the actor who played the evil clown in last year’s adaptation of It and the upcoming sequel. The prisoner, known to us only as The Kid, is quiet and withdrawn, and may or may not have something of the supernatural about him.

It’s tricky to write about Castle Rock without giving away details that may prove significant in the future of the series. Based on the four episodes Hulu made available to critics, I can say that there are definitely elements of hocus-pocus and holy cow in Castle Rock, as well as scenes of nicely disturbing violence. In other words, just what you both expect and want from a King-based product.

What there isn’t, alas, is a lot of forward momentum. The storytelling is pretty logy, taking a long time to make a few points. We experience a lot of the show from Henry’s point of view, as he re-enters Castle Rock after a long absence. Holland is good at intelligent blankness, which is to say, his Henry seems like a very smart fellow who is baffled by the poignant silences of The Kid. Then too, Henry has long been unable to recall exactly what happened to him and his father on his dad’s fateful night in 1991. The result, for Henry as our main character, is not so much an unreliable narrator as a narrator who’s frequently as in the dark as we are.

The show has a strong cast. Spacek is superb as Henry’s stepmom, a plucky old bird (and one of the few performers here who attempts, and pulls off, a good Maine accent). Equally excellent is Melanie Lynsky (from HBO’s Togetherness) as Molly: As a girl, she had a crush on Henry; as a grown woman, she’s got big problems — the supernatural pops up in her life as well — and is trying to figure out whether Henry will be of any use to her.

Sissy Spacek stars in <em>Castle Rock.</em> (Photo: Hulu).
Sissy Spacek stars in Castle Rock. (Photo: Hulu).

Hulu is making the first three episodes available on Wednesday. I’d say it was in an attempt to get you hooked, but I also suspect it’s because Hulu looked at the finished product, thought this same thing I did about the rather slow pace, and decided it needed to give viewers a better sense of where this handsomely gloomy, 10-episode project is slowly going.

Castle Rock is streaming now on Hulu.

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