Castle in the Ground

Review by Rich Cline | 3/5

cullen, poots and wolff
dir-scr Joey Klein
prd Michael Solomon, William Woods
with Alex Wolff, Imogen Poots, Tom Cullen, Keir Gilchrist, Neve Campbell, Kiowa Gordon, Star Slade, Joseph Ziegler, Howard Jerome, Michelle Jackett-Webster, Donno Mitoma, Rebecca Diamond McGregor
release US 15.May.20
20/Canada 1h45

campbell gilchrist gordon

Castle in the Ground
Infused with a lively sense of real-life humour, writer-director Joey Klein's dark drama is skilfully shot and edited to take the viewer on a rather harrowing journey. The pacing becomes rather mopey from time to time, and also occasionally tips into preachiness. It also feels very reminiscent of other drug-issue movies, down to several story details. But the film marks Klein as a director to watch.
In small-town Canada in 2012, Henry (Wolff) has dropped out of university to care for his ill mother Rebecca (Campbell), spending time with his girlfriend Rachel (Slade) when he can get out of the house. Then his noisy neighbour Ana (Poots) worms her way into his life. When Rebecca's illness relapses, Henry begins to follow Ana down the path of opioid addiction with the help of her her friend Stevie (Gordon) and their dealer Richard (Gilchrist), aka Polo Boy. Then Jimmy (Cullen) turns up seeking revenge, casually leading them into an even deeper drug-fuelled hole.
The film is beautifully photographed by Bobby Shore to give it an artful, introspective tone. Little touches let us see under the surface, for example as Henry so privately maintains his Orthodox Jewish rituals. It's difficult to watch him fall for the insidiously demanding Ana, who always needs to borrow a phone or get a lift somewhere. There are also ominous references to a white-panel van, so when it appears, the story shifts into a nastier gear. But the murky storytelling makes it increasingly hard to care where it's heading.

The filmmaking style allows the actors to develop remarkably understated, realistic performances. These are strongly individualistic people who interact in sparky ways as their lives spiral out of control inch by subtle inch. Wolff has a superb persona, both alert and rather hang-dog at the same time, making Henry thoroughly likeable even as he makes bad decisions. Poots makes Ana such a sociopath that she's terrifying, shifting from charming to cruel in a split second.

There are over-the-top cautionary comments about "selling your soul" for a tiny pill. And several sequences feel staged in ways that are just a bit overly squalid, a cool movie-style depiction rather than more truthful or even heightened authenticity. Henry's growing addiction and its accompanying desperation are sharply rendered on-screen, which makes the film vivid and interesting. Although a more original and nuanced exploration of the characters' underlying emotions could have added a stronger visceral impact. This may be style over substance, but it's great style.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 9.May.20

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