The Buzz: ‘Castle Rock’ Is Atmospheric, But Lacks Consistent Thrills & Scares

Castle Rock tells the story of a lawyer named Henry Deaver who is brought back to his hometown after receiving a mysterious phone call about a potential client. Unfortunately, Henry is reviled back home for inexplicably disappearing when he was a child and inadvertently causing the death of his adoptive when he went searching for Henry. After being found Henry was unable to remember anything from before he went missing. Since then, Henry left home to defend death row inmates in Texas, but with no more clients left in Texas, Henry has come home to investigate a new lead. Meanwhile, Henry’s mysterious new client, a young man who was discovered being held in a cage deep in an abandoned part of a prison, begins to cause trouble as he shows signs of supernatural powers.

Castle Rock, while not based on any particular work of Stephen King, does share it’s setting with several of King’s stories, as well as character Sheriff Alan Pangborn. The series is also supposedly littered with many other references to King’s mythology, but as someone who has very little familiarity with King’s work, nearly all went unnoticed by me. I’d say this is a good thing though, as many series and movies will often go overboard with its Easter eggs. I’ve seen movies kill their own momentum by introducing fan service at the worst possible time. Fortunately, this was never the case in Castle Rock as the story seemed to flow naturally. No reference felt forced, and even Alan Pangborn felt completely at home in this new story. Being responsible for finding Henry as a child and hooking up with his mother gave him plenty enough reason to be around, and his inclusion felt important to the plot.

Regrettably, not all that much happens in the first two episodes of Castle Rock, as these episodes are almost exclusively used as set up. While many important pieces are put into place in both Severance and Habeas Corpus, it’s still unclear where the show intends to take its viewers. There is definitely something supernatural affecting the town, but only the tiniest of hints are given to what this may be. Considering Castle Rock is a mystery this is to be expected, but the show could benefit from some more conflict to help hook in viewers. There’s no real sense of urgency with this plot as the stakes haven’t been established yet. Sure, it’s hinted bad things will happen if the kid found in the prison is released, but without a defined consequence there’s little to build tension with.

Protagonist Henry Deaver is well fleshed out within the first two episodes, but besides him, most of the other characters fall flat. Despite the entire cast giving great performances, I found it hard to invest in any of the other characters introduced in Castle Rock. It’s nearly impossible to get a read on anyone as everyone acts strange or guarded making it hard to relate to anyone other than the protagonist. Even though a character doesn’t have to be relatable to be compelling, none of the other characters were strange or interesting enough to stand out from the crowd. It’s still early in the series, but by the end of the second episode, I should have had a good idea who the main cast will consist of. With how slow the show moves and without compelling characters to latch onto, there isn’t much to keep audiences watching.

In Castle Rock’s defense, the atmosphere is well done as there’s always a sense of foreboding hanging above every character. It always feels like something’s off with the town, even when nothing particularly bad or supernatural is happening. Unfortunately, this atmosphere has yet to amount to anything as the series lacks many thrills or scares. There are definitely several unsetting ideas and images, as well as thrilling moments, scattered throughout, but I never consistently felt on edge or scared during either episode. Perhaps Castle Rock is saving its best moments for later in the series but as is its off to a pretty lackluster start.

The show is also at least visually interesting for the most part, with many nice shots in the pilot episode Severance. The second episode didn’t have as nice camera work, but it was still very solid. The opening sequence of Severance is by far the best and most compelling part of the series so far, and Castle Rock has yet to top it. Unlike the rest of the show so far, that opener had stakes with real weight as Alan searched for Henry. With the continued nastiness of the storm and the ever-growing potential of Henry freezing to death, there was a feeling of urgency that is lacking from the rest of the series. Combined with the striking beauty of the frozen over landscape and the foreboding sounds of something unearthly, the opening minutes promised viewers a much more intense and visceral venture than what we’ve received so far.

Castle Rock is far from incompetent, but it has yet to set itself apart from shows like it. It’s a fine way to kill an hour, but it’s not something that has left much of an impact on me or something I will likely check back into anytime soon. If Castle Rock could’ve proven to me it could recapture the power of the opening minutes of the pilot, I could see myself sticking around, but as of two episodes in the show lacks a gripping enough plot to sustain my continued viewing. Only those who are able to be captivated by atmosphere and performance alone will likely find much entertainment in Castle Rock, especially if it continues at the same pace as the first two episodes.