There are few living authors today who’ve had as deep a cultural influence as Stephen King. In fact the only other one I can think of is J.K Rowling. While Rowling has become the source of some of our greatest fantasies, King is the originator of our fears. He envisioned Pennywise from It, decades before killer clowns incidents became part of our landscape. Both the movie and book version of The Shining have become touchstones of terror. Carrie, Cujo, Pet Cemetery, King’s novels and the film adaptions they’ve spawned have been giving us the chills for generations. And the little town of Castle Rock, Maine where evil seems to be focused has been a mainstay of his work for years.
Now the town of Castle Rock itself, has finally earned its own treatment. With JJ Abrams as executive producer, Hulu streaming has debuted a new TV series intertwining characters and themes from King’s work into a beautiful, disturbing tableau with familiar elements and yet a peculiar haunting quality all its own.
Scott Glenn (Photo by: Claire Folger/Hulu)
In 1991, Henry Matthew Deaver, adopted black son of the local preacher, is found on a frozen lake. His father is now dead and Henry claims to have no memory of what happened. Flash forward 27 years later and Henry (Andre Holland of Moonlight and Selma who’s more than up to being the anchor here as the show’s lead) is now a death row attorney in Texas. But when the newly privatized Shawshank prison finds a mysterious young man (a delightfully unsettling Bill Skarsgard) with no official records kept in a cage in the basement by the old warden, the only words he speaks are Henry’s name.
Sissy Spacek (Photo by: Claire Folger/Hulu)
The prodigal son comes home to find his mother Ruth Deaver (Sissy Spacek) is now stricken with dementia and all her legal matters are being handled by her live-in boyfriend former sheriff Alan Pangborn (Scott Allen of The Silence of the Lambs and Daredevil) who was the one to find Henry all those years ago. Meanwhile rumors are flying about former warden Dale Lacey (Terry O’Quinn of Lost) and Henry’s next door neighbor realtor Molly Strand (a surprisingly touching performance by Melanie Lynsky) is blessed or rather cursed with rare psychic gifts. And strange and frightening things always seem to be happening around that nameless, speechless captive.
Melanie Lynskey and Andre Holland (Photo by: Claire Folger/Hulu)
The line between reality and dreams is often a tenuous one (especially for Molly), but what helps give Castle Rock its punch is that besides the terrifying sense of supernatural evil permeating the community are in fact those elements that are all too real. Molly is coping with terrible mental illness while trying to revitalize a struggling community that has become dependent upon a prison as its primary employer. The folks at Shawshank are out to protect their business model and aren’t above keeping an unknown man illegally detained-or even deliberately setting him up for murder to do it. Henry is conspicuously the only black guy around in a lily white town which marked him as an outsider long before his disappearance. Is the young man in a cage victim or fiend? Or both? If Castle Rock is being haunted by some demon or other, then perhaps it’s an apparition the townspeople have raised upon themselves. While the first three episodes of the series (now available on Hulu) raise far more questions than answers, they also leave you wanting more.
Top: Andre Holland – Photo by: Claire Folger/Hulu