Based off the 1962 novel by Shirley Jackson, We Have Always Lived in the Castle is a modern witch’s brand of murder-mystery.
The zealously competent cast is comprised of Taissa Farmiga as Merricat, our lead character, and her sister (Alexandra Daddario) who both live in their deceased parents’ home with their mentally incapable uncle portrayed by Crispin Glover. They are content in their habitual isolation and odd ways until a distant cousin (Sebastian Stan) arrives to disrupt their makeshift order and bring ugly truths to light.
The overall tone of We Have is a thrilling one. Every character seems to be holding their breath, as if awaiting something or holding something in. The lack of truly sunny days and emphasis on the moonlight aides in selling the peculiarity of the Blackwoods and their castle that looms over the town. They’re an eclectic few and their family’s reputation only amplifies that. Merricat is hunched and untrusting, only smiling for her sister Constance, who seems to be incapable of frowning. Her yearning for normalcy and genuine happiness is ironically unraveled by her stiff and Stepford Wife persona. Combined with the elegantly deranged Uncle Julian’s rantings, each player competes a different kind of crazy and you’re unsure of who the winner is. With Merricat narrating the way, the story you’re told is deemed dangerous and somber. It’s great fun to watch their interaction with an outsider, especially during an incredibly dizzying kitchen scene, and what it takes to make the outsider finally go away. Frankly, the performances all around are deserving of praise. Farmiga is comfortable but commanding of yet another oddball role and Daddario eerily teeters between laughter and bawling every time she’s on screen. The character of Julian was interpreted well by Glover, another renegade for the offbeat. Sebastian Stan is suited well for the time period and the demeanor of the less than savory cousin Charles. They swiftly tackled a story that is so reliant on the depth of the character and relationships. The narrative envelops ideas of escapism and longing, envy and distrust, and hatred and misunderstanding. It’s also very much a film about dreams and fantasy and the fragility of humankind.
This film can fall into a few genre categories, mystery being at the forefront. It can be called a modern day witch movie with its generous showcasing of jar spells and spell books providing textual guidance, a representation that Jackson herself would delight in. The series of events and days are separated with illustrated “cue cards” that add to the fairy tale vibe. Mark Kruger respectfully handled the screenplay and incorporated some dialogue from the novel for the diehards. Do not expect horror, as it wasn’t adapted from a horror story, but rather a peek into the lives of psychologically damaged people and the strange realities of those lives. Call it a period piece or a drama. Regardless, it’s curious and invokes curiosity throughout.
We Have Always Lived in the Castle is slow but steady, personal but voyeuristic. It’s a stunning effort that captures the creator’s trademark style of ‘disturbing, not distasteful’ with voguish design and quaint photography.
We Have Always Lived in the Castle is now available on major VOD services.