WE HAVE ALWAYS LIVED IN THE CASTLE
Starring: Taissa Farmiga, Alexandra Daddario, Sebastian Stan, and Crispin Glover
Director: Stacie Passon
Writers: Mark Kruger (screenplay); Shirley Jackson (based on her 1962 novel We Have Always Lived in the Castle)
Studio: Brainstorm Media
“But now we live as two queens in a castle atop the highest hill. They wish for our ruin.”
We Have Always Lived in the Castle tells the story of Merricat Blackwood, a young woman who lives with her sister Constance and her Uncle Julian. These three family members are the sole survivors of a mass arsenic poisoning five years ago that left everyone else in the family dead. These three have hidden themselves away inside their castle-like home, set atop the hill, and the town both loathes and fears them. However, the Blackwoods’ idyllic seclusion is threatened when their cousin Charles arrives. He charms Constance, he has plans for Uncle Julian (who is in a wheelchair), and he constantly thwarts Merricat’s plans to get rid of him. As family tensions rise, tragedy befalls the Blackwoods once again.
Although We Have Always Lived in the Castle is set in mid-20th century Vermont, it very much fits within the Southern Gothic genre — which I absolutely love. There is a gorgeous mansion (castle), the burden of the past, fire and poison, loads of family drama, which, of course, wouldn’t be complete without hints of incest. I am not going to compare the film adaptation to the book because what good does that do anyone? Accordingly, this review will focus solely on the film as a standalone piece. That said, the first thing to be commended here, naturally, is Shirley Jackson’s brilliant storytelling capabilities. The narrative told here is a rich one that is beautifully executed by the cast and crew members.
Taissa Farmiga (The Final Girls, Anna) plays the imaginative and deeply protective Merricat Blackwood. Farmiga’s expressions and delivery of dialogue perfectly communicate her slightly dangerous spell-making obsession, as well as her deep loyalty to her family. She is a wonderfully complex character. Then we have Alexandra Daddario (Baywatch, Percy Jackson), who does a great job playing the aloof, agoraphobic Constance Blackwood. Oh, and she has a seriously enviable closet of stunning (what we would now call vintage) dresses. Uncle Julian (played by Crispin Glover, Alice in Wonderland, Back to the Future) is constantly mistaking family members for each other and making casual dinner conversation like, “Last time I saw my brother, he was sitting in that chair, foaming at the mouth.” Glover fantastically portrays a man who has been so marred by tragedy that he can only reflect upon whether or not their family knew they’d die that day. Our other major player, cousin Charles (Sebastian Stan, Avengers: Endgame, Captain America: Civil War) is slimy and charming and manipulative and WHY DOES SEBASTIAN STAN HAVE TO BE SUCH A BABE. Merricat did not fall for his wily ways, though, so kudos to her — seriously.
So clearly, the story and the cast are all fantastic, but there are so many good things here that I haven’t even touched on yet. To start, the aesthetic of the film is a Wes Anderson-meets-Tim Burton dream, and I love it so so much. The house, the costumes, the bizarreness of it all is right in line with their style. Classical music playing throughout the film helps to cement the whimsical vibe, and the pockets of silence amp up the creepiness. There are also little things, like the day of the week appearing in a simple black-and-white logo with plantlife, that I find very attractive. Lastly, be prepared to want to write down all of the brilliant lines, many of which are delivered by Merricat herself (who is also the narrator/POV we get in the novel). From “The sound of their hate is another kind of fire, moving through the bones of our house,” to “I wonder if I could eat a child if I had the chance,” We Have Always Lived in the Castle promises to leave you both delighted and unsettled — a winning combo.