Based on Shirley Jackson’s final novel, We Have Always Lived in the Castle never leaves the perspective of 18 year old Merricat (Taissa Farmiga), who lives reclusively with her older sister Constance (Alexandra Daddario) and disabled uncle Julian (Crispin Glover). She is the family’s only connection to the outside world on her weekly shopping trips, until a long-absent cousin Charles (Sebastian Stan) arrives unannounced – upsetting the household’s delicate balance.
The film is largely a four-hander, allowing its stars ample time to dive into their characters’ psyches and get under each other’s skin. Farmiga is an engrossing, if unreliable, guide to her family; Merricat’s narration is viewers’ only account, but her performance – and love of spells – hints at a deeper unease. Daddario reflects Constance’s trauma in her entire being. Whether by luck or design, some of the film’s most striking shots linger on her face and the inevitable cracked perfection is unnerving – although Daddario’s blue day dress and strikingly blue eyes coordinate ever-so-slightly too well. Glover holds Julian’s cards close to his chest, revealing more in his repetitive phrasing than by outright exposition. Stan excels at the slimier roles; he may have the most straightforward character but convincingly plays against Merricat’s narration, enhancing the central mystery.
Director Stacie Passon captures the crumbling Americana Shirley Jackson’s work is renowned for, hiding rot behind a picture-perfect mid-century aesthetic. This gothic mood is sharpened by impeccable pacing; vital world-building at the beginning allows the thrills and chills to run uninhibited in the final act.
We Have Always Lived in the Castle relies less on outright scares than on the creeping, oppressive sense that all is not what it seems. It adheres to the broad strokes of Jackson’s novel while capturing its dark heart: the supernatural is far less terrifying than what humans are capable of.
CAST: Taissa Farmiga, Alexandra Daddario, Sebastian Stan, Crispin Glover
DIRECTOR: Stacie Passon
WRITERS: Mark Kruger
SYNOPSIS: Two sisters live an isolated existence with their uncle after their parents’ deaths; this all changes when a long-absent cousin comes to visit