At one point or another, everyone experiences loss. The grief that follows manifests itself in different ways, but the decisions we make while trying to cope could define us forever. That’s the theme that the film Castle In The Ground sets out to explore, and in heartbreaking fashion, it succeeds.
Director Joey Klein does a good job at telling the story, but his direction isn’t what I enjoyed the most about the film. Instead, I found the cinematography to be the best aspect.
The use of light and darkness is particularly noteworthy because of the highs and lows our characters face throughout the film. Whenever we see a character high, it’s often accompanied by the sunshine illuminating the ecstasy in their eyes and their temporary smiles. When the night time rolls around and the high has subsided, the darkness literally looms as we’re forced to see the characters deal with most of their issues head on.
I also enjoyed the editing of the film because it occasionally compliments the cinematography. There are tons of instances where certain shots transpose into others to create a contrast. The best example of this is the first time that Henry gets high. As he lays down slowly drifting away, the shot fades into him walking down a long dark corridor right up to Ana’s door. This example also sheds light on one of the film’s downsides though too. When he arrives at Ana’s door, we don’t know how much time has passed since his first high. Throughout the film, time seems to jump around often. While it’s never by much, it’s still enough to cause you to question whether or not everything you’re watching is in the correct order.
The film revolves around a very religious young man named Henry who takes care of his terminally ill mother. When she dies unexpectedly though, he turns to opioids to cope with his sadness. Not too long after, he befriends a female junky across the hall named Ana, and the two of them eventually end up on a local drug dealer’s radar after one of Ana’s friends steal from him.
The story, while interesting, is very slow. The first act, in which we meet Henry and his mother, does a good job at establishing the tone and foreshadowing some of the events that will happen to Henry later on, but it’s also a bit of a bore. After his mother passes away, the film picks up considerably and almost to a fault. Because of how bizarre things get in the second half, it almost feels like you’re watching a different film altogether. I could see that being done on purpose to highlight the drastic impact that drugs have on a life, but I think it’s a choice that ultimately hurts the film.
One of the film’s greatest strengths is its portrayal of the hopeless optimism that addicts often feel. Characters are constantly trying to convince themselves that things are going to get better after “one more hit,” even claiming that “it’s all going to be okay.” Even in the film’s final moments, certain characters still use those words as comfort when it’s very apparent that the opposite is true. The film is very honest with itself acknowledging that this story - and real ones like it - won’t have a happy ending.
ACTING | CHARACTERS | DIALOGUE:
Almost unrecognizable, Neve Campbell does a solid job as Henry’s mom. From the very beginning, it’s apparent that she knows she doesn’t have long left to live, but she still wants the best for her son. What’s most sad is that she doesn’t know that her death will be the driving force for his addiction.
Alex Wolff continues to prove his range in the role of Henry, though it’s not his best role - that award still goes to his performance in Hereditary. It’s still very interesting to see how he loses his faith and succumbs to addiction though. He never seems thrilled by his habit, but still can’t bring himself to stop, which is what makes his portrayal feel so realistic. Finding the next fix eventually becomes as routine as using the bathroom or eating.
The entire cast is good, but the film’s standout is easily Imogen Poots, who plays Ana. I’ve been a fan of Poots since 28 Weeks Later, and while she has done a lot of great work over the years, this is easily one of her best roles to date. She captures the mentality of an addict perfectly. All at once, she cares for her friends, she hates her friends, she wants to get better, and she’s willing to do anything for her next “pop.” She knows she’s an addict and doesn’t want Henry to become like her, but at the same time she offers Henry advice on what to do if he ever becomes an addict. With both the best and the worst intentions, she’s a walking contradiction. Because we see just as much good from her as bad, we know what she’s capable of, and want her to recover, but we also acknowledge that she might never.
VISUAL EFFECTS | MAKEUP | DESIGN:
MUSIC | SCORE | SOUND DESIGN:
The music, while fitting with the film’s tone, also doesn’t do too much to elevate the story. To reiterate once more, there’s a much stronger emphasis on the film’s visuals, and it’s understandable because the most important sense that addicts lose is their sight. It’s hard to tell what’s real from what’s not, and the film really hones in on the pain felt with and without drugs.
The film doesn’t do much in terms of makeup or design. And there’s only one really noteworthy sequence that I guess one could argue does incorporate effects to some degree. During a party in an abandoned building, there’s one scene that follows our main characters as they enter, become separated, and eventually leave. It’s the film’s most tense sequence because over the course of it, we find out that there are some people at the party looking to hurt Ana. Up until Henry is reunited with her, he’s frantic and the camerawork is effective enough to make us feel the same way.
Apart from that, the rest of the film is very practical. As mentioned before, the film relies a lot more on the cinematography and editing to evoke a sense of incoherence and hopelessness.
"Castle In The Ground, like its characters, may be flawed, but that doesn’t make it meaningless..."
Castle in the Ground (2020) MOVIE REVIEW
Castle In The Ground, like its characters, may be flawed, but that doesn’t make it meaningless. It may not have been made for me, but I’m sure there’s clarity in it for someone else who can relate. It’s eye-opening enough to transform its bleak terrain from a PSA about the consequences of indulging in your pain into a wake up call for anyone who finds themselves stuck in a similar cycle. You see, sadness never made anyone stronger, but neither did substance.