In Castle Rock, there is every chance that we could encounter the cold reality of Beckett’s trauma.
If there are two things that word inspires, they are horror and schlock horror. The former comes from that long lost dream of rising darkness, the realisation that something dreadful is on the horizon. The schlock horror is the memory of a teenage flick in which something horrible happened. One scene in particular was terrifying: a woman finds a rat in her bathtub. The most terrifying images end up being the simplest. The glue is always the water. Where there’s water, and the universe teeters perilously close to collapse, there’s a story of evil lurking in the shadows. So when reviews begin to shuffle about, cryptic warnings grow louder and more menacing: big spoilers ahead.
But it is possible, thanks to Castle Rock’s killer combination of strength and strangeness, to look at this as nothing more than its previous two titles: It, which is as much an homage to dark reality as it is a take on The Exorcist, and Joe, which deals with a woman waking up in a bed of concrete, only for the walls to erode – physically and metaphorically – right above her head. There is nothing here that isn’t even a little nod to The Exorcist: ‘The Warrens are not here, and nothing that happens here has happened before. It’s a mystery.’
With the seven-year wait between the former two films, the real focus has been on the future relationship between Pennywise and Henry Deaver, who spent the last film gone up in flames with some slavering fanboys and die-hard Scream Factory enthusiasts (after the movie actually came out at midnight on a Monday, naturally).
So how do these two carry over? Henry has returned to town – he’s scared shitless, but incredibly refreshed – to tend to some urgent business. The biggest clue is in the title, which puts Henry at the centre of the story. He’s about to put a bullet in the face of the town’s biggest fixation, but sadly, the darkness that has surrounded him isn’t what you’d think it would be.
Henry – in all his dark glory – isn’t the only person obsessing over Deaver. The moppet-dominant power couple of Derry, otherwise known as Runaway Castle – Wendy (Sissy Spacek) and Henry’s daughter, Billie (Anna Hutchison) – have returned from L.A. only to find that their son has disappeared. By turn, the mysterious dude who keeps saying “Don’t look down” or the supernatural mini-bus driver (Cory Michael Smith) are still working to find their kid.
So, is Henry the town’s main focus? Was Pennywise really able to break through and come back to life, even though we saw it in all its dimensions in It? What’s really going on in the town in all this?
One fact is certain: there’s a cracking premise here. With the passing of time, it’s a world you could travel in that feels as if we’ve been here before, with a host of choices waiting before you (the evil Bigfoot, the demonic Necronomicon). There are enough familiar elements in this mix that we’re not naive enough to ignore there’s some closure ahead, so we can check in with the children that returned to us in It. That trio are now adults. Oh, but in this world, the horrors are always not far away.
Castle Rock, which was created by writer Joss Whedon and filmmaker Sam Shaw, is a swooningly beautiful place: downright beautiful in a diorama kind of way, with all sorts of cottages, forests and small-town pubs. But this isn’t The Room, a show built on the idea that an intricate set makes a claustrophobic place more intimate, or A Christmas Carol, a movie about demons that references everything from The Munsters to The Exorcist.
There’s not a lot that is truly frightening about Castle Rock. It can say it’s a horror series, but horror is a movement. The early whispers around Castle Rock were that it has something decidedly non-horror – an homage to Stephen King, rather than an extension of It or Joe. But so far, it doesn’t. Fans can handle that – the King-verse can handle anything. It’s just the construction that’s been teased: If this is Pennywise, he’s here to cause problems, but he’s not here to solve problems.
Which leaves us to leave you, the readers, with a question that scares the snot out of me: Who