Review by Sean Boelman
Written and directed by Joey Klein, Castle in the Ground is a new drama hoping to tackle the very topical issue of the opioid crisis. However, despite an extremely strong start, the film largely abandons its character-driven drama heading into the third act before becoming a thriller that is significantly less compelling.
The movie follows a young man grieving the untimely death of his mother as he forms a friendship with his troubled neighbor, sending him into a dark spiral of despair and addiction. It’s a bleak film, and when it approaches its subject matter with honesty and empathy (which it does for a majority of the first half), it works quite well.
Yet there comes a point in the script when Klein seems to become more concerned with telling a story that adheres to cinematic conventions, and that is not what this subject matter demands. There are plenty of hard-hitting melodramas about the topic, but what made this one stand out for so long was the level of restraint it exhibited. Once that goes out the window, the film starts to falter.
There’s a lot to be gained from this story, but perhaps the most interesting thing it has to offer is an exploration of the way in which an addict’s environment can drag them down even further. Though the protagonist’s arc is interesting in its own right, it is his relationships with other characters who feed off of his energy in a parasitic way that really make the movie interesting.
Klein is able to establish some really interesting arcs in the beginning of the film only for them to take a much more predictable turn by the end of the story. It was certainly very refreshing to see a movie take a more low-key perspective on the lives of addicts, focusing on how the smaller aspects of their lives are affected, hence why it is so disappointing when the finale tries to go too big.
Alex Wolff and Imogen Poots both give very good turns, with Poots being particularly impressive in a role that is much less charming than usual. In most cases, she is playing one of the most dynamic and interesting characters in the script, but here, she absolutely nails the despair and pain that Klein hopes to capture. Neve Campbell also makes a welcome appearance in a small but powerful supporting role.
On a technical level, Klein’s film is very deliberate and atmospheric, although the somber visual style likely won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. The unusual choice of aspect ratio and overwhelming greyness in which the movie was shot aren’t particularly welcoming, but that seems to be Klein’s point here, to show how addiction isn’t pretty.
The first and second acts of Castle in the Ground are undoubtedly much stronger than the third, but it is still an all-around interesting watch nonetheless. Just don’t expect this to be an easy or comfortable watch.
Castle in the Ground hits VOD on May 15.