Review by C.J. Bunce
Your next creepy movie for fall is waiting for you now on Netflix. It’s director Stacie Passon′s 2018 adaptation of award-winning author Shirley Jackson′s 1962 mystery thriller, We Have Always Lived in the Castle. And although it is not technically a story about one of our favorite horror tropes, creepy little girls, you will meet two very creepy young adult sisters who live alone on the hill at the edge of town with a secret that may not be all that secret. Taissa Farmiga (The Nun, American Horror Story) stars as Mary Catherine Blackwood, called Merricat, the stranger and younger of two siblings, with Alexandra Daddario (White Collar, True Detective) as the older sister, Constance. No doubt inspired by the acquittal in the murder trial of Lizzie Borden, the movie (as with the original novel) takes places six years after the poisonings of the sisters’ parents, with Constance as the sole suspect. Who really poisoned them?
Crispin Glover (Back to the Future, Alice in Wonderland) delivers possibly his finest performance as Uncle Julian. Present at the deaths of his brother and sister-in-law, Uncle Julian was also poisoned, but survived with an addled mind and failing body. Constance seems to have never recovered from the accusations, and the townspeople certainly will not let the family forget. Constance has a smile fixed as she goes about surviving each day, a PTSD victim ready to snap at any time. Merricat is left to venture out once a week to get groceries and get lambasted by all those that looked down upon the family for their wealth and scandal. Yet Merricat is happy with the status quo, burying her father’s possessions to ward off evil spirits and bad fortune. As she tells us as narrator, Constance is the most precious person to her in the world.
But the sisters’ world comes crashing down as a cousin, played by Sebastian Stan (Captain America: Winter Soldier), appears in a sports car and begins taking over the house. Worse for Merricat, Constance seems to be falling in love with him, and the new couple begins to make plans for the future. In a world of oddities out of Great Expectations, What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? or Hush… Hush, Sweet Charlotte, can anyone in the house find normalcy or have any hope of getting their lives back?
Unlike most Gothic stories, and the typical seaside or New England tale, cinematographer Piers McGrail (The Canal) shot We Have Always Lived in the Castle in bright lighting, leaving everything in the story visually out in the open to be seen by all.
Taissa Farmiga is quickly showing she’s on track to be as notable an actor as sister Vera, conjuring some of her sister’s creepier performances (think Bates Motel) while making her roles her own, with that trademark quietly emotional quality we’ve seen from actresses like Jodhi May. Alexandra Daddario proves she’s not just another pretty face–she uses the smile that helped her co-starring role with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson in Baywatch in a more shocking and surprising way to reflect the many sides of angst, fear, and uncertainty.
The film is well made, with haunting visuals and a grand mansion and grounds, and an overgrown woods nearby–shot in Ireland despite its New England setting. It hails from Michael Douglas’s production company Further Films.
We Have Always Lived in the Castle is a great character study, more focused on individuals, relationships with community, and the hatred humans can inflict upon each other. It also has two strong, powerful women characters that you’ll long remember. We Have Always Lived in the Castle is streaming now on Netflix. It’s also available here in digital on Amazon Prime, and on DVD. Shirley Jackson’s novel is available here at Amazon (along with her stories The Haunting of Hill House and The Lottery), still in print after 57 years.