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Hulu’s Castle Rock: Buckle Up, This Ain’t No Storybrooke

Stephen King’s literature-to-screen conversion rate is one of the highest, rivaling the Bible itself. His influence on popular culture cannot begin to be measured whether it’s in his figures of terror like It‘s Pennywise or Carrie (both adapted for film and tv multiple times); iconic nightmare scenarios like Paul Sheldon’s captivity in Misery (viewable on film or as a live theatre adaptation); or the relatable devastation of the coming-of-age chronicled in The Body which spawned the film Stand By Me (1986).

Photo Credit: Columbia Picture

Much of his skill in drawing us in is the sense of place he builds. Syfy network aired five seasons around the coastal town of Haven, Maine, loosely based on King’s mystery novel The Colorado Kid. Another King element Haven played with was the idea of the Monkey’s Paw wish – incredible powers gone horribly wrong, what Haven residents termed “The Troubles” – a theme central to the novel Needful Things (also adapted for film in 1993).

Interestingly enough, at publication, the novel Needful Things was touted as “The Last Castle Rock Story” (which it wasn’t) pointing out just how much the well-known geography mattered to King’s readers. Over a dozen narratives are physically situated in the town while at least another two dozen make specific reference to it.

Photo Credit: Hulu

Hulu is banking on the inherent tension of King’s own Hellsmouth to drive the story of death row lawyer Henry Deavers (André Holland, The Knick) called back to his childhood home to aid a nameless inmate (Bill SkarsgÃ¥rd, Hemlock Grove) found in a cage in the infamous Shawshank Prison, twenty miles outside of Castle Rock.

The Stephen King easter eggs (now wouldn’t THAT be an amazing marketing opportunity?) are thick in every shot and scene as Henry returns to the town (which isn’t even a town anymore) where everyone calls him “Killer” but his own mother (played by none other than Carrie herself Sissy Spacek!) doesn’t recognize him at first.

Photo Credit: Patrick Harbron/Hulu

Other major players that may ring a bell are the ex-sheriff, Alan Pangborn (Scott Glenn, The Defenders), real estate queen (and young Henry’s number one fan) Molly Strand (Melanie Lynskey, Rose Red), and recently retired Warden Dale Lacey (Terry O’Quinn, 666 Park Avenue).

If you pay close attention, in just the first four episodes, there are casual references to multiple King stories including “that body found down by the tracks” and dog attacks. Also, in case you missed the most recent King connection, our unnamed Shawshank inmate was JUST on the big screen (and will be again) as Pennywise in It.

Photo Credit: Patrick Harbron/Hulu

This is a town mired in mystery and riddled with secrets. Henry’s past is a palpable presence as he interacts with the Castle Rock inhabitants. There are unanswered questions about more than just a boy in a cage (although that would’ve been enough really) and, even in broad daylight, Castle Rock is a shadowy and dangerous place.

Photo Credit: Patrick Harbron/Hulu

Hulu doesn’t shy away from bloody and violent scenes but what really strikes the chord of distress psychologically is the very grotesqueness of the humanity presented. Furthermore, the musical score does NOTHING to reassure the viewer of any redemptive nature either.

An elegant interweaving of flashbacks and present deepens the history of damage in Castle Rock. The terrors Henry and Molly face are not new developments by any means.

It would be no exaggeration to claim that Castle Rock shelters some malevolent, possibly supernatural, force of darkness but every act of cruelty and desperation is carried out by completely mortal hands and with some complicit intention or motivation. Whether it’s a means to an end or simply the best of many terrible options, the people of Castle Rock actualize the horrors we witness.

Photo Credit: Patrick Harbron/Hulu

It seems a given that Henry will root out the truths of his past as well as what Warden Lacey’s hidden legacy truly entails but it’s unlikely that anyone comes out unscathed. But in a town where “the only thing anyone contemplates is suicide,” survival may be all one can hope for.

Castle Rock premieres on Hulu on July 25.

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