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With: Alex Wolff, Imogen Poots, Neve Campbell, Keir Gilchrist, Tom Cullen, Kiowa Gordon, Star Slade, M.J. Dionne
Written by: Joey Klein
Directed by: Joey Klein
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: 107
Date: 05/15/2020

Castle in the Ground (2020)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Opioid Din

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

A downbeat depiction of the early days of the opioid epidemic, this drama doesn't offer much new in the story department, but the excellent, sustained performances make it very much worth seeing.

In Castle in the Ground, it's 2012, and Henry (Alex Wolff) has dropped out of school to look after his sick mother (Neve Campbell). One day, while picking up her medication at the pharmacy, he meets Ana (Imogen Poots), an addict who lives across the hall. She claims to be recovering, but can't get the help she needs. Later, his mother wakes in agony and demands a morphine patch that she's not supposed to mix with her other medication. Henry balks, but eventually gives in to her request.

She dies, and a distraught Henry cuts ties to his girlfriend and everything else. He begins taking the remainder of his mother's medication, and finds it helps ease the pain. He becomes more and more involved with Ana's volatile world of drug dealers and users, and before long, things become dangerous.

Coasting through a grayish, low-key haze, Castle in the Ground strikes a good balance between soapy, self-conscious melodramas about drug use (Ben Is Back, Beautiful Boy, etc.) and hyper-extreme movies like Trainspotting or Requiem for a Dream. It remains focused on character, rather than sensation. Without driving the point home, Henry blames himself for his mother's death, and he's a young man simply trying to manage his intense pain. (He also feels betrayed by his faith, as his regular praying to save his mother's life failed to yield results.)

Ana, on the other hand, has become a master manipulator, doing small favors for Henry, showing him kindness, and then quickly demanding favors in return. "She would sell your soul for something this big," says one character, his fingers indicating the size of a tablet. These two perform a harrowing but moving dance of despair as they spiral around each other and downward.

While only appearing in the first section, Campbell is likewise outstanding, trying to balance humor and bravery with her unbearable onsets of pain. The believable supporting characters and excellent production design — in her apartment, Ana sits in a woven deck chair like a wretched throne — help make Castle in the Ground feel all the more genuine.

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