×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘We Have Always Lived in the Castle’

A solid, but faithful adaptation of Shirley Jackson’s gothic fairytale about two peculiar, ostracized sisters hiding a dark family secret.

Director:
Stacie Passon
With:
Taissa Farmiga, Alexandra Daddario, Sebastian Stan, Crispin Glover.

1 hour 36 minutes

If the recent failure of films such as “The Little Stranger” and “Marrowbone” has taught us anything, it’s that audiences don’t seem as thrilled with good, bone-chilling Gothic mysteries as they once were. Today, when it comes to spine-tinglers, moviegoers seem to value jump scares and gore over psychological brooding. That hasn’t stopped filmmakers who, every few decades, revive the works of novelist Shirley Jackson. Her stories speak to a darker side of humanity. Stacie Passon, director of “We Have Always Lived in the Castle,” sharply channels the author’s atmosphere of dread, paranoia, and isolation, making the past feel prescient.

Socially awkward 18-year-old Mary Katherine Blackwood (Taissa Farmiga), nicknamed “Merricat” by her family, lives with her agoraphobic sister Constance (Alexandra Daddario) and anguished, barely lucid Uncle Julian (Crispin Glover) on the sprawling grounds of Blackwood Manor. The gorgeous Gothic mansion sits high above a small New England town, like a judgmental god lording over the people.

After a mysterious tragedy involving an arsenic-laced sugar bowl befell the Blackwood family six years prior — one that robbed the young ladies of their parents and left Uncle Julian an invalid — the Blackwoods have kept to themselves, only venturing into town for necessities. But that doesn’t mean they’ve successfully avoided the ire of the resentful victims of their father’s ideologies. Merricat spends her days casting magic spells to make sure the Blackwood kingdom is kept safe from any perceivable threats, like angry townsfolk or nosy gossips. She buries talismans — such as dolls, coins, and other accoutrements — in her backyard to ward off evil spirits. However, when their estranged, suave cousin Charles (Sebastian Stan) pops in for an unannounced visit and begins assuming the role of the family patriarch, his presence completely upends Merricat’s world.

Both the cinematic adaptation and the source material are less concerned with “whodunit” (although we do find out by film’s end) than they are about the issue of female agency at a time not especially conducive to it. In that sense, Passon and screenwriter Mark Kruger are successful. They bring to life Jackson’s resonant, evergreen narrative dealing with women finding their voices, adding stylized flourishes in the process.

Not only has Merricat been silenced by the men in her life, but Constance also has experienced a similar muzzling. She’s caught in the grief stage after losing her freedom, romance, and parents in one fell swoop. Her greatest defense mechanism is denial. Feelings of otherness and oppression permeate the picture. The ensuing dramatics briefly dip into surrealism, as when Merricat sees an unsettling vision of her parents. These sentiments of sorrow are expressed with a pressing urgency and, for better or worse, tend to be a smidge too obvious.

While Merricat’s wardrobe doesn’t change much, sister Constance’s clothing does. The crinoline skirts under her impeccable dresses get more and more voluminous as the story progresses, as if to reflect the growing number of secrets stuffed underneath. The Jordan-almond-like, candy-coated quality of DP Piers McGrail’s cinematography hints at a darkness underneath the Blackwoods’ fairytale lifestyle. Composer Andrew Hewitt’s score may as well be the grand, orchestral version of whatever emanates from the music box trinket on Constance’s vanity. Anna Rackard’s production design and Louise Mathews’ art design also reflect the characters, specifically with the ’50s-era kitchen: Like the girls after their tragedy, it’s been remodeled.

Film Review: 'We Have Always Lived in the Castle'

Reviewed at LA Film Festival, Los Angeles, Sept. 22, 2018. Running time: 96 MIN.

Production: A Great Point Media, Further Films, Albyn Media production. (Int’l sales: Great Point Media, London.) Producers: Jared Ian Goldman, Robert Mitas. Executive Producers: Michael Douglas, Laurence Hyman, Kieran Corrigan, Jim Reeve, Robert A. Halmi.

Crew: Director: Stacie Passon. Screenplay: Mark Kruger, based on the book by Shirley Jackson. Camera (color, widescreen): Piers McGrail. Editor: Ryan Denmark. Music: Andrew Hewitt.

With: Taissa Farmiga, Alexandra Daddario, Sebastian Stan, Crispin Glover.

More Film

  • Bohemian Rhapsody

    'Bohemian Rhapsody,' 'Marvelous Mrs. Maisel' Among Cinema Audio Society Winners

    Queen biopic “Bohemian Rhapsody” won the Cinema Audio Society’s top prize for sound mixing at Saturday night’s 55th annual CAS Awards. The film is Oscar-nominated for sound mixing this year along with “Black Panther,” “First Man,” “Roma” and “A Star Is Born.” In a surprise over heavy-hitters “Incredibles 2” and “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse,” Wes [...]

  • Oscars Placeholder

    Make-Up and Hair Stylist Guild Applauds Academy's Stance on Airing Every Oscar Winner

    Rowdy boos were followed by triumphant cheers at the Make-Up Artists and Hair Stylists Guild Awards on Saturday in Los Angeles, as the Hollywood union touched on a week of controversy over a reversed decision to hand out four Oscars during the show’s commercial breaks. Hair and makeup was one of the four categories that would [...]

  • Marvelous Mrs Maisel Vice

    'Vice,' 'The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel' Lead Make-Up and Hair Stylists Guild Awards Winners

    Adam McKay’s Dick Cheney biopic “Vice,” starring Oscar nominees Christian Bale, Amy Adams and Sam Rockwell, won two awards at the sixth annual Make-Up and Hair Stylists Guild Awards Saturday night. The film won for best period and/or character makeup as well as special makeup effects. “Mary Queen of Scots” received the prize for period [...]

  • Bette Midler

    Bette Midler to Perform on the Oscars (EXCLUSIVE)

    Bette Midler will perform “The Place Where Lost Things Go” at the Oscar ceremonies on Feb. 24, Variety has learned. Midler, a longtime friend of composer-lyricist Marc Shaiman, will sing the song originally performed by Emily Blunt in “Mary Poppins Returns.” The song, by Shaiman and his lyricist partner Scott Wittman, is one of five [...]

  • Olmo Teodoro Cuaron, Alfonso Cuaron and

    Alfonso Cuarón Tells Why His Scoreless 'Roma' Prompted an 'Inspired' Companion Album

    Back around the ‘90s, “music inspired by the film” albums got a bad name, as buyers tired of collections full of random recordings that clearly were inspired by nothing but the desire to use movie branding to launch a hit song. But Alfonso Cuarón, the director of “Roma,” is determined to find some artistic validity [...]

  • Berlin Film Festival 2019 Award Winners

    Berlin Film Festival 2019: Nadav Lapid's 'Synonyms' Wins Golden Bear

    Israeli director Nadav Lapid’s “Synonyms,” about a young Israeli man in Paris who has turned his back on his native country, won the Golden Bear at this year’s Berlinale on Saturday. The Silver Bear Grand Jury Prize went to François Ozon’s French drama “By the Grace of God,” a fact-based account of the Catholic Church [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content