Castle in the Ground (Joey Klein, Canada) — Contemporary World Cinema

By Adam Nayman

The swift, ruinous descent from normalcy into substance abuse is hardly a subject lacking for cinematic treatment, and Joey Klein’s Castle in the Ground offers one more. In terms of casting, this Sudbury-set feature is above reproach, juxtaposing sad-eyed Henry (Alex Wolff, already an old hand at being put through the physical and emotional ringer, after Ari Aster’s Hereditary), a nice Jewish boy reeling from the death of his cancer-stricken mother, with manic Ana (Imogen Poots), the recovering junkie next door. In a nicely Freudian touch, Henry gifts his new crush with his mom’s cellphone, suggesting a transference of affection (and guilt) that complicates any potential coupling—not that romance is where Klein wants to go anyway. Instead, as the pair bonds over the moderate highs of allergy medication, Castle in the Ground embraces a set of thriller tropes. Handled realistically, these clandestine, pressurized encounters verge on a kind of social commentary, diagramming the unsettling proximity between a banally recognizable world of over-the-counter prescriptions and the network of dealers and dependents (Ana ultimately occupying both roles) toiling in its shadow. Credit is due to the director and his actors (especially Poots, whose Canadian cadences and wracked body language are flawless) for selling this off-brand Breaking Bad stuff with conviction—however, there’s still the feeling of a movie leaning on conventions, including even the sepulcral cinematography by the always skillful Bobby Shore. There’s a lot of talent here, and the film holds together, but it doesn’t do much more—it accomplishes being accomplished, and then it’s over.

More from the Magazine