Film review: We Have Always Lived In The Castle (5/5)
Screened as part of the Edinburgh International Film Festival, We Have Always Lived In The Castle is a mysterious family drama directed by Stacie Passon. Adapted from the book of the same name, by American horror author Shirley Jackson (who is most famous for her novel The Haunting Of Hill House) those expecting anything supernatural will be disappointed. The ghosts featured here are those of past deeds and not spirits and spooks.
The film is told from the perspective of 18 year old Merricat Blackwood, who lives in an isolated mansion on a hill with her agoraphobic sister Constance and their wheelchair-bound Uncle Julian. She spends her days practising strange magic to keep her family safe from outsiders and only ever ventures down to the village once a week for groceries. The majority of the locals are vocal in their dislike for her family and suspicious of beautiful Constance, who was previously charged and then acquitted for the poisoning of her father, mother, aunt and uncle.
The arrival of cousin Charles causes great disruption in the lives of the three Blackwoods and brings to the surface many long-repressed memories. As he assumes the role of patriarch, and attempts to woo Constance back to the outside world, Merricat fights to keep things the way they have always been.
Director Passon and writer Mark Kruger have done an admirable job in bringing this intriguing work to the big screen. Casting is spot on. Taissa Farmiga is an awkward, intense revelation in the part of Merricat, while Alexandra Daddario uses her startling blue eyes and doll-like looks to infuse Constance with eerie fragility. Crispin Glover is perfectly odd in the role of Uncle Julian and Sebastian Stan stampedes through the film with a masculine energy at odds with the quaint little world the characters inhabit.
The cinematography is crisp and clean and succeeds in creating a strange atmosphere in which the story unravels. The slow exposure of truths and motivations is spellbinding, particularly during increasingly loony dinner scenes and quirky, almost uncomfortably humorous, confrontations between Charles and Merricat. The ending is not unexpected, though it differs slightly from the book, but plays out well and is satisfactory.
We Have Always Lived In The Castle is a superbly acted drama that hooks the viewer in with its curious family dynamics and steady snowball of a plot. It may not be for everyone – some could find the circular events pointless – but those it resonates with will be thinking about it for a long while after the credits roll. Highly recommended.
We Have Always Lived In The Castle (12A, 1h 36 mins)