Review: Castle in the Ground

Last Updated on August 5, 2021

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PLOT: A nineteen-year-old (Alex Wolff) is left adrift by the death of his cancer-stricken mother (Neve Campbell). After digging into her leftover pain meds, he winds up in the throes of opioid addiction, while making a dangerous connection to his neighbor (Imogen Poots) who – likewise – is an opioid addict.

REVIEW: There’s something refreshing about a Canadian drama that takes place in…well… Canada. Crazy as it seems, this is rare, as usually whenever one is made with relatively well-known actors, and the cast of CASTLE IN THE GROUND would certainly qualify, the setting is left ambiguous. Heck, even “Schitt’s Creek” is ambiguously North American most of the time. Rather than go down that road, CASTLE IN THE GROUND is upfront about its Sudbury, Ontario setting. While this may seem like a small thing, too often Canada is portrayed in film in an idealized way and a movie like this shows that’s we’re not immune to many of the same problems that plague our neighbors in the south, specifically the opioid epidemic.

Alex Wolff, who’s been rising quickly on the heels of his turn in HEREDITARY, gives a terrific performance as Henry, a nineteen-year-old skipping out on college to take care of his mom. Devoutly Jewish, with a girlfriend and a bright future, his transition into full-blown junkie is convincingly depicted, with it born out of a strange combination of grief and boredom. It would have been easy for writer-director Joey Klein’s film to put all the blame on Imogen Poots’s character, Ana, the cute girl next door with a hardcore addiction that dwarfs his own, but it doesn’t. He’s willingly led down the garden path even though everyone, from her regular dealer (who memorably tells him “she’d sell your soul for something this big that will kill her anyhow”.”) to Ana herself, tries to warn him off.

While thoroughly depressing and hopeless (Sudbury’s certainly done no favors here with it depicted as a grim wasteland of addiction), CASTLE IN THE GROUND is nonetheless empathetic. No one is portrayed as outwardly villainous, from Tom Cullen as a hulking thief who proves to have a kind streak, to Keir Gilchrist as the wimpy dealer, Polo Boy. The only real adversary is the drugs themselves, and this certainly puts paid to the notion that anyone can “dabble”, especially with deadly fentanyl pills out there threatening to kill anyone who gets their doses even a little off.

Alex Wolff caste in the ground

All that said, you can understand if some folks find this to grim to watch in a post-COVID-19 world, as escapism this is not. It's set in grimy, cluttered apartments, and watching this, you know there’s no way that everyone isn’t all but doomed before the credits roll. Klein maybe could have introduced some levity into it, with some of the song choices (including Suicide’s aptly titled “Surrender”) a little on the nose, but overall it’s still a thoroughly compelling flick. Wolff is a truly exciting leading man, while Poots has always come off as widely unappreciated, and seems a role or two away from the big time. This is another good showcase for her, while Cullen is unrecognizable and hardly seems like the same actor who vied for Lady Mary’s heart in “Downton Abbey”. CASTLE IN THE GROUND isn’t an easy film, but it’s a worthwhile one and recommended for those of you looking for something new and weighty.


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About the Author

Chris Bumbray began his career with JoBlo as the resident film critic (and James Bond expert) way back in 2007, and he has stuck around ever since, being named editor-in-chief in 2021. A voting member of the CCA and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved critic, you can also catch Chris discussing pop culture regularly on CTV News Channel.