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VIFF 2019: CASTLE IN THE GROUND Tackles Opioid Epidemic With Levity [Review]

By Marina Antunes [10.12.19]


Every few years, a movie comes along that attempts to tackle the revolving drug epidemic from the perspective of the user; with varying degrees of success. Be it Requiem for a Dream, Spun, or something more expansive like Traffic or Sicario, the really great movies on the subject are less about the drugs and more about the people. Castle in the Ground is a decidedly smaller budget entry into this already well-treaded territory.


Alex Wolff stars as Henry, a responsible young man who has put off going to college to care for his ailing mother. When his mother passes away, Henry is angry and lonely and rather than turning to family, he finds comfort in his mother's unused drugs and the company of his new neighbour Ana (Imogen Poots), a drug addict camped out in her aunt's apartment in a feeble attempt to get clean.


Rather than getting clean, Ana and some of her companions have hatched a plan to steal a bag of drugs but as with any plan that involves stealing from drug dealers, things quickly get out of hand.



Set in Sudbury, Canada at the height of the city's opioid epidemic, writer/director Joey Klein's sophomore effort captures the high and low points of drug use without glamorizing it. Klein and cinematographer Bobby Shore (The Invitation, Closet Monster, Goon), revel in the unsavoury surroundings that often come with drug addiction but there's also a subtle beauty to the way Shore catches the light, especially in Henry's lowest moments, that suggest escape is possible.


Castle in the Ground also benefits from a trio of fantastic performances from Wolff, Poots and Neve Campbell who plays a small but crucial role as Henry's mother.


While the final act could be swapped out for any number of other thrillers, Castle in the Ground manages to emerge from the fray as an insightful character study. Klein keeps the story intimate and grounded in reality and while it's sometimes difficult to watch, it's a heartbreaking look at how one individual loses himself to grief and drugs and his struggle to recover.




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