Based on the novel of the same name by Shirley Jackson – the author of the beloved book titled The Haunting of Hill House – We Have Always Lived in the Castle follows two sisters, Merricat and Constance, and their uncle Julian: they live in isolation after experiencing a family tragedy six years earlier. Then cousin Charles arrives and the family, which has already experienced hatred from their community due to a dark tragedy, starts to fall apart even further.
We Have Always Lived in the Castle is having a limited theatrical release in the United States and Italy, and I really wanted to watch it since I’m always intrigued by gothic mystery tales.
In fact, We Have Always Lived in the Castle is set in the 30s and does a fantastic job at recreating the costumes and atmosphere of post-recession small-town America. Another aspect this movie excels at is using the cast in the best way possible: the film stars Taissa Farmiga (American Horror Story, The Nun), Sebastian Stan (who plays Winter Soldier in the MCU) and Alexandra Daddario.
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Right off the bat, I must say Taissa Farmiga pulls off the best performance of her entire career: she’s somewhat the main character in the story and truly embodies Merricat, from the line delivery to the awkward and insane mannerism. Sebastian Stan as cousin Charles is also very good in the film, due to his odd and threatening screen presence, although his accent is a little shaky throughout. Uncle Julian, played by a fantastic Crispin Glover, steals the show every scene he’s in: he genuinely delivers his constant insanity and pulls off a perfect accent.
However, the big surprise for me was Alexandra Daddario. I’ve always considered her extremely attractive and beautiful, but due to her previous performances in loads of shitty movies (San Andreas, Baywatch…), I’ve never been able to take her serious as an actress. Here, though, she blew my mind providing a performance that truly brought the character of Constance to life.
Director Stacie Passon (The Punisher TV show) did a fantastic job at getting the best performance possible from the main actors in the movie. She also excelled in the presentation of We Have Always Lived in the Castle.
Here, the camera work is rich and layered, with the reliance on multiple angles and styles of filmmaking. In fact, the directing made this movie extremely lively and easy to watch despite the slow pace. The editing is also well thought out: it’s fast and frenetic in such a way that implements storytelling and speeds up the passing of time within this picture.
Yet, the set design and colour palette are very much integral to the story: the beautiful Irish locations are perfect for this kind of gothic tale, whereas the contrast between colourful imagery (in the town) and sombre shades (in the mansion where the family lives) helps to set the mood and convey the message of the movie.
Speaking of the mansion and the Blackwood family, two of my favourite scenes in the movie are dinner sequences where the dreadful atmosphere becomes even more tense and terrifying due to a combination of solid performances, layered characters and masterful directing.
The main problem with We Have Always Lived in the Castle, however, is quite a big one: the story. It simply isn’t very interesting. In fact, I’d dare say there’s no story besides what’s necessary to deliver the message of the movie. The message being the importance of feminism, according the novel and its author.
This moral/message is delivered in a very subtle way, which makes its impact all the more effective, but it can’t hide the fact that the story is very barebone. As a result, what happens in the end of the movie feels quite rushed and out-of-nowhere: had the story been developed more, the audience would be able to care for what happens in the end. As it is, though, I found the entire third act to be rushed and hollow.
Also, I would advise “straight” horror fans (i.e. people who just want a spooky ride) to stay away from We Have Always Lived in the Castle, as this movie plays out more as a gothic drama – with no scares – than as a horror film.
Overall, the great performances and lively presentation made me very pleased throughout the runtime and curious to read the novel as soon as possible. This film offers plenty of elements to appreciate but it, also, feels quite unaccomplished, as though it was only a step away from being great and memorable.
We Have Always Lived in the Castle 6.5/10
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