Before the current coronavirus pandemic walloped the world, the opioid epidemic loomed large, claiming lives on a fairly significant scale. Joey Klein’s movie, Castle in the Ground, delves into that particular facet of the destructive drug abuse problem.
Scheduled to open on the Bell, Rogers, Shaw, Telus, Cineplex Store, Apple and Googleplay platforms on May 15, Klein’s dark Canadian feature film is about the cost of addiction, the burden of grief and the weight of alienation. It takes place in the northern Ontario town of Sudbury in 2012 as the opioid plague takes hold.
As it opens, Henry (Alex Wolff), 19, crushes a pill with a tablespoon. It’s for his gravely sick and bed-ridden mother (Neve Campbell). Henry, soft-spoke and morose, is a good son. He’s so devoted that he has decided to postpone his return to school until she’s feeling better. Henry, however, is rudderless, drifting along aimlessly.
Having attended to his mother, Henry goes into another room to lay tefillin. He chants a plaintive Hebrew melody as he wraps the black leather strap around his arm. This reference to Henry’s devotion to Judaism is clear. Judaism represents continuity and stability, a peaceful haven from his troubles at home. But its inclusion in the film appears contrived and artificial at first glance.
Waiting at a pharmacy to pick up his mother’s medications, Henry meets Anna (Imogen Poots), his next-door neighbor. She is arguing with the pharmacist. When that commotion dies down, she asks him for a $140 loan. Judging by her erratic behavior, Anna is an unsettled and unstable person. In time, she will become a near constant presence in Henry’s life.
When Henry is struck by personal tragedy, he falls into a state of depression, retreats into self-imposed isolation and breaks up with his girlfriend. This phase is very temporary. Henry catches up with Anna at a bar, where she works as a waitress. Although she seems to have a steady income, she’s habitually short of money. Being a drug addict, she continues to scrounge loans from Henry.
Against his better judgment, Henry is swept into the whirlpool of Anna’s chaotic, sometimes violent life.
Wolff and Poots deliver competent performances as two mismatched people struggling to find a semblance of contentment in a harsh environment.
Castle in the Ground is uniformly bleak, and the cinematography reflects its somber, downbeat mood. Indoor scenes are dim-lit and Sudbury is glimpsed only at night. The sun never shines, in keeping with its gloomy ambience.
Drug addiction exacts a terrible toll on its victims, inducing a sense of despair and hopelessness. Klein’s film is infused with that doom-laden atmosphere.