The confluence of horror maestro Stephen King and television/movie producing supremo J. J. Abrams is enough to get mouths watering. Castle Rock is the result, which debuted on Hulu in the summer in the States but is now reaching UK shores on the Amazon sub-channel Starz Play. It means you may have to dig a bit both into your pockets (its a fiver a month) and into Prime Video to hunt it down but if you’re a fan of horror, King and Abrams, it may be worth the search, at least off the back of the first four episodes we’ve been fortunate to see.
As a concept, it is wholly indebted to Abrams’ most well-known series – Lost. Castle Rock is an ensemble mash-up in which all of Stephen King’s characters and tales, from novels to novellas to short stories, exist in the same hemisphere – specifically the eponymous town in King’s preferred location, the rural, northern Americana of Maine, New England. The local prison is called Shawshank. The retired sheriff, played by Scott Glenn, featured in King’s novel ‘Needful Things’. The mother of one of our protagonists is even played by Sissy Spacek, made famous for the first King adaptation to register, 1976’s Carrie from Brian de Palma.
Castle Rock, therefore, is designed to appeal to the King fan first and foremost and the lover of slow-burn enigma second. King fans will be looking out for Easter eggs that connect back to the novels and stories (and there are *loads*) while anyone who loved Lost will be excited and the central, if fairly ethereal, presence of genre legend Terry O’Quinn to the narrative, and engaged by the core mystery of Andre Holland’s lawyer Henry Deaver, what happened to him when he disappeared as a child, and how it connects to both his possibly psychic old neighbour Molly (Melanie Lynskey) and ‘The Kid’ (a creepy Bill Skarsgard), a strange young man found imprisoned in the bowels of Shawshank.
Naturally, given this is based on the work of King, there will almost certainly be a thick fog of the supernatural which covers Castle Rock in the long term, but show runners Sam Shaw & Dustin Thomason are being careful with overplaying their hand too soon. The key word for the opening few episodes is *atmosphere*. They want to soak the town of Castle Rock into your bones; this chilly, remote, slightly worn representation of a world that no longer exists, which you feel haunted by the ghost of something darker on the periphery. As a setting, Castle Rock immerses you in a sense of place much like the town in Stranger Things does, a show which is probably its closest bedfellow so far, except if the kids were grown ups.
In other words, there is significant potential. The mystery could be too dense for some, as Castle Rock is more intent on establishing puzzles than paying them off as part of a serialised narrative in these early episodes, but Stephen King fans will undoubtedly be thrilled at the possibilities of where these stories could go. Castle Rock, at this stage, is reputed to be framed around a different mystery (and potentially different characters) in the town each season (its already been renewed for another run) so there is a good chance that by episode 10, that payoff could well be worth the effort.
If you can dig deep enough to track it down on Starz Play, while not immediately addictive or strikingly original, Castle Rock could emerge as a cult TV hit and delve into some of the spookiest corners on the small screen we can imagine. Give it a chance. Give it time.
Castle Rock premieres on Starz Play on Friday 14th December.