The good news for Stephen King fans is that they’ll probably love the new series Castle Rock. The mileage may vary for everyone else.
US streaming service Hulu’s anthology series comes from mega-producer JJ Abrams’ production company, and blends the mythology of King’s books by setting the series in his creepy town of Castle Rock, Maine.
This gothic wooded community is seen through the eyes of death row attorney Henry Deaver (American Horror Story‘s André Holland) as he returns to his hometown upon the discovery of a feral inmate (IT’s Bill Skarsgård without clown makeup) caged beneath the mythic Shawshank State Penitentiary.
It’s an intriguing premise for sure, and Castle Rock boasts an impressive cast including Lost‘s Terry O’Quinn , Jane Levy, Sissy Spacek and Melanie Lynskey. The trouble, at least for some critics, is that Castle Rock seems to cater too much to hardcore Stephen King uber-fans.
This is a point that pops up over and over again in several critical reviews, as you can see below:
“As a dark horror/mystery thriller, the show definitely ticks all the right boxes. The writing is tense, the direction is deliberate, the cinematography is off-putting and the sound design will make you jump. If you are looking for a new dark/horror fix, Castle Rock will mark the spot in this department as well.
“But, if you are a casual viewer perhaps not looking for either of these things and are just coming to the show because you enjoy the occasional King adaptation either directly (IT) or indirectly (Stranger Things), know that Castle Rock will be asking for a large time commitment from you.”
The Hollywood Reporter
“Hulu’s new horror drama plays on viewer knowledge of the Maine town from Stephen King’s Needful Things and The Dead Zone, but lacks a compelling narrative of its own.”
“What does it really feel like to live in a place where supernatural horror plays out? Disappointingly, it seems pretty quotidian. Castle Rock will surely attract some die-hards, but, sketchily unfocused on the human scale, it is surprisingly inhospitable to casual visitors.”
Consequence of Sound
“Similar to Westworld, Game of Thrones, or Lost before it, Castle Rock relishes the little details, stuff that will be inconsequential to most, but essential to die-hards.”
However, there were other critics who were hugely impressed by the haunting storytelling, which weaves in topical themes of political corruption with supernatural elements.
Here are a sampling of the more glowing reviews:
“Hollywood’s track record with adapting the works of Stephen King is spotty at best: For every Carrie or It the movie, there’s a Dark Tower or It the miniseries. So Hulu was smart to adapt not just a single novel from the horror master, but all of them at once, creating a sort of Stephen King extended universe. The result: the new anthology Castle Rock (debuting Wednesday, July 25), an effectively eerie patchwork of King’s most famous stories that’s reminiscent of Fargo and American Horror Story, with genuine scares and a wealth of strong performances.”
“For King fans the world of Castle Rock will be inescapably familiar. Spending time here feels, in many ways, like coming home — with all of the excitement and dread such a visit entails.”
“Castle Rock is a can’t-miss series for Stephen King fans and a must-watch horror show for fans of dark, thrilling, character-focused mysteries.”
Den of Geek
“some might be turned off by the show’s obvious political leanings – race is also discussed, especially when it comes to Henry’s blackness in a predominantly white community – but I’d argue that horror is at its best when tackling things that challenge and scare us in real life. (Get Out and It Follows are two great examples.)”
Readers in the US can judge for themselves when Castle Rock premieres next Wednesday (July 25) on Hulu. The show doesn’t have a UK home yet.
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