“This Is Our Greatest Achievement. With It, We Create Super-Nazis; A Thousand Year Army And It’s Thousand Year Soldiers…”
Mixing together a plethora of talented filmmakers, Overlord, the latest from Son of a Gun director, Julius Avery, sees the combined forces of producer J. J. Abrams (Star Wars: The Force Awakens) and screenwriter, Billy Ray (Captain Phillips) for a live-action R-rated adaptation of an idea originally coined by both Abrams and Ray and then polished over by The Revenant screenwriter, Mark L. Smith. Whilst not strictly groundbreaking within a world fascinated with the notion of Nazi zombies as made famous by the hugely popular Call of Duty video game franchise as well as the 2009 Norwegian horror, Dead Snow, Ray’s script sees a band of American brothers on the eve of D-Day drop into the heart of German occupied France in order to destroy a radio tower situated within the confines of a remote village under siege by murderous Nazi soldiers who all fall under the wing of Pilou Asbæk’s (Game of Thrones) villainous and horrendously vile, Captain Wafner. Whilst it is easy to suggest Overlord is essentially Saving Private Ryan meets 28 Days Later, the genetic combination is surprisingly accurate, and with Avery attempting to prove that even the scariest of monsters fail to come close to the horrors of Nazi rule during the second world war, the Australian’s latest is a ripe, over the top and extravagantly violent B-movie which although slips occasionally in trying to balance horror with history, is still a thoroughly entertaining slice of monster mayhem.
With an opening act which attempts to embody the horrifying uncertainty of warfare, Overlord begins by dropping the audience head first into one of the loudest set pieces of the year, eerily evoking the sound of Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk by bombarding the senses with gunshots, hysterical mayhem and the screams of young soldiers being senselessly massacred by the unseen threat of the Nazi war machine which hovers below them. As soon as the key characters become grounded however, the central heroic group led by Wyatt Russell’s (Everybody Wants Some!!) eerily cold and focused team leader, find themselves in dangerous territory, and whilst they swiftly become housed by Mathilde Ollivier’s feisty French prisoner in an effort to save them all from certain death, the first hour or so focuses much more on the war aspect of the tale then I would have expected, portraying a Nazi regime with no care for humanity whatsoever as our band of heroes slowly come across the secret experiments operating in the same church in which their mission target awaits. With the moral compass of the movie led by the good hearted and rookie presence of Jovan Adepo’s (Fences) Boyce, his performance is one of the few shining lights of optimism in a movie riddled with gruelling nihilism, whether it be a jump scare reminiscent of the infamous shock set piece from David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive or particular narrative decisions reminiscent of a similar mode of torture used in Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Overlord is a truly nasty movie, albeit in the good sense, and whilst come the concluding act the screenplay falls into horror genre conventions and becomes increasingly predictable, Avery’s latest is a mightily enjoyable monster mash with levels of gore rarely seen in movies which make it onto the big screen.
Overall Score: 7/10
“Everyone In This Town Has Some Sin Or Regret. Some Cage Of His Own Making…”
For the majority of television series, the real discussion regarding a show’s particular merits generally land on the effectiveness of the book-ending episodes, with scrutiny more than most applied to both the opening and concluding chapters, particularly the latter with criticism always leaning towards whether the respective end of a series bows out in a well balanced and universally accepted manner or crashes and burns under the weight of the hours of storytelling which have come before it (see Dexter for such an example). In the case of Castle Rock, Hulu’s debut series was undoubtedly a refreshingly interesting, albeit flawed, genre bending haunted house of a series which attempted to pay respect to the mind of horror’s most influential contemporary writer whilst offering a glance into a town riddled with nightmares and head scratching mystery. When it came to the show’s concluding hour therefore, there was no doubt that theory after theory regarding the potential resolution of the main plot thread involving Bill Skarsgård’s The Kid was always going to be one which divided audiences, and whilst Castle Rock finished on a familiarly atmospheric and creepy note with a lot to admire, “Romans” still managed to feel ever so slightly underwhelming considering the potential that was in line to be grasped.
Picking up on events directly after episode eight, with the previous episode entirely dedicated to revealing The Kid’s true nature as Henry Deaver mark one, or maybe not as we’ll discuss later, Castle Rock’s final chapter focused on Deaver one’s willingness to return back to his own reality with the aid of Deaver mark two, whose reluctance to abide is shifted as we see through his eyes potentially more truth to Warden Lacy’s opinion regarding mark one’s closeness to evil. With the town of Castle Rock crumbling by the hour thanks to shocking character deaths, the rising sound of paranoia and a particularly violent prison escape, all plot threads seemingly accumulate as we follow both Deaver’s into the heart of the woods where Deaver mark one’s faint flicker of embedded evil seems to manifest in the show’s most terrifying jump cut throughout the entire series, and whilst many thought, myself included, that the show would inevitably veer towards a more Hollywood style resolution with Deaver one safely reunited with his true reality, what a kick in the teeth we were left with as the circle closed on seeing Deaver one once again held captive within the heart of Shawshank, this time watched closely by his alternate counterpart whose belief in his prisoner’s evil is enough to warrant a lifetime of sin. Ultimately, Deaver’s decision may not be the most humane or rewarding from the perspective of the audience but hey, throughout the series we have been warned of Castle Rock’s underlying seediness, and with a post credits sequence which suggests further exploration into the mythos and mind of Stephen King, Castle Rock‘s debut series was a brooding, bewildering and maddening slice of horror which can only get better with time.
Overall Episode Score: 8/10
Overall Series Score: 7.7/10
“God Turned His Back On This Place. Abandoned Us…”
As stated within previous reviews of Hulu’s latest success story, the fact that Castle Rock has been proclaimed as an “anthology” series by its’ creators in the vein of American Horror Story or True Detective, means that loose ends and unresolved mysteries aren’t exactly on the menu once the drama ultimately concludes in the very near future. Thankfully, Castle Rock’s penultimate episode just happened to be a twisting, mind-bending and thoroughly enjoyable chapter which put to bed the mystery of Bill Skarsgård’s, The Kid, whilst shining a ray of optimism heading into the show’s highly anticipated climax next week in which further unresolved plot threads are bound to be tied up in one way or another. With the previous episode fading to black after leaving the audience safe with the knowledge that The Kid and Molly seem to share more in common than meets the eye, “Henry Deaver” decided to dedicate the entire episode to Skarsgård’s character in order to develop such a notion as we came to realise The Kid’s true nature and place within the town of Castle Rock and the way in which his presence may indeed be key to the evil which has spread across the town since his arrival.
With an ominous opening speech featuring the familiar line; “people say it wasn’t me, it was this place” and further evidence of the seedy history of Castle Rock, the action swiftly moves onto the chance to witness the transformation of Skarsgård’s alternate Henry Deaver from a universe in which he seemingly survived childbirth and became an advocate for Alzheimer’s treatment and saving cute cats, to the enslaved victim of one man’s religious beliefs as he crosses over into “our” dimension in which the young Henry Deaver’s disappearance is finally explained. Considering the resolution of the show’s central mystery ultimately landed well and truly on the crazier side of things, kudos must go to the screenplay, with the episode’s handling of the reveals managing to explain particular plot threads rather well without ever becoming too much or too confusing whilst leaving a heavy amount of the load for the audience to ultimately figure out for themselves. With Skarsgård on absolutely gripping form as the episode’s lead and some wacky psychedelic imagery and cinematography, Castle Rock once again proved that when the show is at its’ most subversive and bizarre it’s undoubtedly at its’ best, and whilst certain questions do remain unanswered heading into the finale in the coming days, if the show can be wrapped in a similar fashion to the storytelling in its’ penultimate episode, everything should be swell.
Overall Episode Score: 8/10
“The Human Mind Is Expressly Designed To Forget Much Of Its’ Past Suffering…”
With Castle Rock hitting top stride last week with undoubtedly the best episode of the series so far, an extended hour’s worth of television which by the time the series ends will more than likely still remain top of the tree due to the sheer excellence expelled from both its’ storytelling and construction, “Past Perfect”, the eight episode of the series, reverts back to much more of the classic Castle Rock feel this week, adding more development to particular plot points whilst dialling up the hysterical sensibility canvassing the titular town which resulted in a variety of violent conclusions. With the re-introduction of the two new members of the town after their short appearance earlier on in the series when they are seen being sold the renowned “murder house” by Molly, the episode begins in familiarly wacky fashion by showing the turbulent relationship between Mark Harelik’s Gordon and Lauren Bowles’ Lilith, a rocky marriage dented by Lilith’s unfaithful indiscretion but one still on track as they declare themselves the new owners of Castle Rock’s B and B which the two are dedicated to design around the many historical deaths which have occurred within the town throughout the ages.
With an opening segment featuring an abundance of bloody murder which clearly evoked the shot of the dead twins from Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, the inclusion of Gordon reeked heavily of Psycho’s Norman Bates and with the added touch of a selection of axes and spooky mannequins, Castle Rock’s B and B seemed to be the main place for strict avoidance. With Molly’s predictable rescue of Henry resulting in yet more death from her part in the name of the man she clearly loves, Henry’s discovery of the now deceased Alan Pangborn resulted in The Kid being blamed for his murder even after an enlightening conversation with the local Police in which Henry was reminded of his school-time nickname of the “Black Death”, a title relatively apt considering the timeline of events which have occurred since Henry’s return to Castle Rock. With Skarsgård once again stealing the show, his IT related reference regarding his twenty seven year wait for Henry still remains overly ambiguous even when his refusal to age, as evidenced by the huge collection of eerie paintings within the B and B, points heavily towards the supernatural, and with a final, overly ripe five minutes in which Molly’s secrets were unveiled and Jackie Torrance’s hereditary knack for using an axe made total sense, “Past Perfect” was a mad yet enjoyable Castle Rock chapter.
Overall Episode Score: 7/10
“God Helps Those Who Help Themselves…”
Continuing on from the double dose of cliffhangers which concluded last week’s return to form, Castle Rock utilises an hour length episode this week to expand and develop Sissy Spacek’s Ruth Deaver, a character whose shadowy spectrum within the background of events so far comes full circle as we come to understand the true nature of her mental infliction which the likes of Alan and Henry have come to deduce as a simply case of Alzheimer’s, but one which instead lends itself more into the paranormal and surreal, with particular previous character behaviours within the series all becoming increasingly clear. With “The Queen” undoubtedly the most impressive episode of the series so far in terms of its’ beautiful storytelling, sharp pacing and heartbreaking twists and turns, this week’s episode was also the most King-esque to be offered up so far, an hours worth of paranormal imagery overshadowed by a haunting, creeping tone and a brooding, ominous soundtrack which clearly echoed a wide range of previous King related projects in which the series has taken heed from.
With Ruth’s ability to travel through the vortex of time itself made abundantly clear, resulting in last week’s strangely odd conversation regarding the importance of the missing chess pieces within her house now making total sense, the hour we spend watching Ruth as she traverses the echoes of her past memories is truly beautiful to behold, with the chance to add a deeper layer of characterisation to the likes of Deaver’s over-bearing and unstable religious father figure brilliantly orchestrated, whilst in the present, the true nature of The Kid seems to unravel itself with a heartbreaking resolution as Ruth attempts to rid herself of her reincarnated demons. With nods to The Shining in which we see Ruth battle through a very Gold Room-esque party full to the rafters with echoes of the dead, and an absolutely stunning use of Max Richter’s “On the Nature of Daylight” as seen in the likes of the equally beautiful Arrival, “The Queen” was a powerfully emotive and undenaibly creepy addition into a series which continues to impress the more it goes on, an episode which bears similarities to “Kiksuya” from Westworld by showing that even when taking the time to focus strictly on one character, such storytelling can be a real beautiful thing to behold.
Overall Episode Score: 9/10
“I Was There, In The Woods The Night You Disappeared…”
With the major news this week regarding Castle Rock being that the overwhelming success from critics and audiences alike have resulted in a second season being rightly ordered by Hulu, the jury remains out on how exactly all of the many as of yet, unsolved mysteries within the series so far will play out to a conclusion this year or will instead seep into the next batch of episodes set to come in twelve months time. Thankfully, “Filter”, the sixth chapter of the series, goes a long way in attempting to break down particular narrative arcs with a bit more push in comparison to last week’s slow-burning episode, with a flashier pace and a stand-out musical accompaniment resulting in one of the better episodes of the series so far, one boosted by yet another great central performance from André Holland as his character begins to understand the oddity of his ambiguous past and the origin of the strange, ringing sensation which was picked up on out of the blue during last week’s episode, whilst attempting to rekindle his distant relationship with son, Wendell Deaver, as portrayed by Chosen Jacobs, a young actor famous of course for his portrayal of Mike Hanlon in last year’s It.
With most of the action focusing heavily on Deaver’s own discovery into his murky and absent memories of youth, particularly in regards to his wanderings into the forest with his adopted father, the discovery of two previous associates of Deaver Sr. results in a surrealist, dream-like epiphany in an attempt to understand the “voice of God” which has supposedly manifested itself within the ringing sensation Henry has been plagued with since a child. With the twirling mix of forestry and incidental piano-based musical cues which wouldn’t be astray upon the musical desk of Angelo Badalamenti, Castle Rock does seem to bear more than a fleeting resemblance to Twin Peaks the more it goes on, particularly when Sissy Spacek’s Ruth is essentially a contemporary incarnation of Grace Zabriskie’s mourning Sarah Palmer, and with the added straight-faced horror elements including the recurring masked spectres haunting Molly’s subconscious and The Kid’s continual presence within the Deaver household, the show is best when it mixes the supernatural with the sublime. Concluding with arguably the biggest cliffhanger yet, “Filter” offered a vast improvement on last week’s chapter with thrilling developments, better pacing and a sudden switch into surrealism which put the series back on track.
Overall Episode Score: 8/10
“I Guess Everyone Thinks They Grow Up In The Worst Place On Earth…”
With the concluding act of last week’s episode of Castle Rock undoubtedly the best part of the series so far, a startling five minutes or so which expertly blended the dulcet, lucid tones of Roy Orbison with a genuinely unsettling murder spree conducted by Shawshank prison guard, Boyd, a character whose early demise seems to begun a sequence of events which flows into the mid-way mark of the series this week in an episode which puts Skarsgård’s “The Kid” slap-bang in the centre of ominous in-comings after he is released into the wilderness of the titular town. Whilst “Harvest” is undoubtedly the weakest episode of the series so far, with its’ slower pacing and lack of real plot movement dragging the quality of the storytelling down a couple of notches in comparison to the first four hours of the show, the halfway mark of the series is also strangely the most important, a forty five minutes which seems to continue balancing historic exposition with contemporary action without ever becoming too convoluted in a sub-Westworld sensibility and one which continues the noble art of finishing on a conclusion which leaves you gripped and ready for more.
With the release of “The Kid” the real talking point of the episode, his psychiatric evaluation and sudden care change into the hands of Molly is paralleled with the ever-growing and literal oncoming storm of wildfire, a supposedly natural phenomenon set to embrace the town of Castle Rock after already taking lives elsewhere, one which seems to ominously foreshadow events yet to come. With the orange glow of the fire raging in the distance as the episode unfolds, kudos indeed goes to cinematographer’s Richard Rutkowski and Jeff Greeley, particularly with a brilliantly executed shot in which “The Kid” overlooks Castle Rock as the screams of its’ residents intersect with the sombre, Blade Runner 2049-esque backdrop which unfolds in the distance. With Easter Egg of the week undoubtedly handed to Jackie Torrance during her discussion regarding a familial connection to one axe-wielding lunatic, it’s a shame therefore that “Harvest” is an episode which just didn’t seem to flow as freely as the rest of the series has done so far, but with the second act of the series on its’ way, Castle Rock now has to show whether it is a series which ultimately lives up to expectation or indeed falls under the heavy weight of eager King fans who already have their steely knives sharpened.
Overall Episode Score: 6/10
“There Is A Lot Of History In This Town. Not All Of It Is Good”
With the previous episode of Castle Rock dedicated primarily to the development of Molly Strand and her key involvement in the death of Henry Deaver’s father, it seemed wholly necessary that “The Box” would once again revert back to Deaver himself for a forty-five minute episode which included mysterious discoveries, a superb jukebox soundtrack and a concluding set piece which provided evidence for when the show is at its’ best, Castle Rock can be a harrowing and powerful work of horror. Beginning with the haunting nightmares of Deaver and his flickering memories of youthful captivity being presented in a superb retro-style sensibility, the eerie wailing of the voice of Tom Waits pierces the mood of the episode to perfection as Deaver’s willingness to return home begins to take a toll on Chris Coy’s Boyd, the Shawshank whistle-blower regarding the discovery of “The Kid” whose psychological toll regarding the treatment of the many prisoners inside begins to showcase itself early on as we see his character begin to crack under the pressure of seemingly being the only guiding light within the metaphorical hell-house which is Castle Rock’s local prison facility.
With Bill Skarsgård finally having a bit more to do than just stare idly at the camera this time out, his characters’ reaction to threats made by the Shawshank lawyer-type figure resulted in a ferociously unsettling reminder of not only Skarsgård’s freakishly tall body structure but the fact that amidst the unjust incarceration and unfair treatment. there is still something undeniably evil surrounding his character, even if as of yet, the evidence hasn’t surfaced to back up such a claim. With Deaver more adamant than ever to understand they grey area surrounding his disappearance, his discovery of an a-typical murder house reminded everyone that newspaper reels are still the best cinematic form of historical exposition, even if it was more fun to see if any Stephen King-laden Easter Eggs popped up in the many articles which were examined. With the episode mulling towards a sense that it fell justly into the realm of “solid, just not spectacular” with five minutes remaining, how timely it was therefore for a concluding set piece which immediately evoked the murderous rampage in Lynne Ramsay’s You Were Never Really Here this year, albeit set to the brilliant backdrop of Roy Orbison’s “Crying”, a scene which was admired with a gaping dropped jaw and a resounding sense that now Castle Rock is halfway through its’ stay, the real action begins now.
Overall Episode Score: 8/10
“The Only Thing People Contemplate In This Town Is Suicide…”
With the opening set-up for the series out of the way, Castle Rock has begun to spread its’ wings in the direction of a sprawling narrative which attempts to balance the slow release of historical events with the contemporary mystery surrounding the main characters of the piece thus far, and with the third episode of the series focusing primarily on Melanie Lynskey’s Molly Strand, the anxious and paranoid house realtor with a penchant for Carrie-esque telepathic abilities, the horror element of the show was somewhat subsided for around half an hour in place of some much needed character development and interesting developments regarding particular secrets which are slowly and surely being unravelled. With an opening scene which highlighted a young Molly’s crucial involvement in the folklore legend of Henry Deaver’s disappearance and death of his father, such an event seemed to highlight a strong, seemingly affectionate bond between Molly and Henry, one which ambiguously brought to the table a much different relationship between father and son which ultimately resulted in Molly’s decision to turn from empathetic pacifier into merciless, cold killer.
When the horror elements of the show ultimately rear their ugly head however, Molly’s dream sequences involving a guilt-heavy trip into her subconscious alongside a clear reference to the spooky imagery of the 2015 Austrian chiller, Goodnight Mommy, was effectively played, utilising the drawn out, lingering shots the genre is well versed in to dramatic ends, particularly in a concluding shot which undoubtedly sent shivers down the spine. More focus on Molly within the episode also meant more focus on Jackie Torrance, whose close friendship between the two seemingly holds no secrets regarding Molly’s affection for the newly returned Henry Deaver, even if her true abilities are still a secret buried within, and with Molly’s penchant for social awkwardness ultimately resulting brilliantly in the long-awaited meeting of Deaver and “The Kid”, or the now aptly named “Nic Cage”, the strange questions and ghostly eyed stare of Skarsgård’s character continue to haunt, even when at times it feels necessary for the show to try and push his particular character’s exploration a tad further, particularly when it has been nearly three hours of mystery with no real indication of where “The Kid” ultimately fits into the overall narrative, but for an episode primarily dedicated to one character, “Local Color” was an entertaining and surprising forty five minutes of one of my new favourite debut series. For the other one, check out Sharp Objects.
Overall Episode Score: 7/10
“People Say “It Wasn’t Me, It Was This Place”. They’d Be Right…”
Perhaps the most difficult episode of a debut series is arguably the curtain raiser’s successor, an episode which is tasked with following on from plot points freshly spouted in the opening chapter whilst attempting to develop the tone of what that particular series is ultimately heading for in a manner which is intriguing to explore from the point of view of an audience whose journey through the series has only just begun. With Castle Rock’s opening hour a delicate, slow-burning creep-fest, the same sensibility can be said for episode two, a shortened forty-five minutes which develops and introduces new characters from the titular town whilst beginning to throw in a wide range of Stephen King flavoured Easter eggs as it slowly builds its’ way around the central mystery at the heart of the narrative so far. Whether it be blink and you’ll miss them nods to Cujo during the discovery of a past local newspaper headline, or the voice-over of Terry O’Quin’s former warden, Dale Lacy, referring to Stand By Me with the discovery of a body on the tracks, episode two of Castle Rock begins to explore the fun the show can have in wetting the appetite of eager King fans dedicated to hunt out every single reference the show decides to flaunt no matter how cryptic and hidden such a nod could be.
With the opening title card for the episode a mirage of King’s written word, one which focuses on famous phrases from Kings’ most iconic novels to date, “Habeas Corpus” begins where the previous episode concluded, with Bill Skarsgård’s “The Kid” supposed paranormal abilities being exercised within the heart of Shawshank, resulting in Noel Fisher’s (Red) prison guard, Dennis, urging Andre Holland’s Deaver to obey the wishes of the prison’s most recent and ambiguous resident as quickly as possible. With Skarsgård’s eyes undoubtedly being the star of the show so far, the devil symbolism which hovers over his character is elevated heavily with the sudden strange death of an inmate and a letter left behind by the former warden whose lengthy incarceration of “The Kid” seems duly justified considering the evil Skarsgård’s character seems to hold within. With horror aficionado Jane Levy (Evil Dead, Don’t Breathe) being introduced as Jackie Torrance, the familiar surname immediately pricks the ears as does her character’s almost encyclopedic knowledge of the town, resulting in a quickfire history lesson regarding Deaver’s mysterious disappearance as a child and the unexplained death of his foster parent which still haunts the town in the present day, and whilst at times the episode sacrifices clever writing for the overuse of swearing, episode two of Castle Rock remains a compelling, mysterious horror fan’s dream with a splendid soundtrack and committed performers resulting in a second chapter which continues the strength of the show’s debut.