We Have Always Lived in the Castle Taissa Farmiga Crispin Glover Alexandra DaddarioYear: 2018
Director(s): Stacie Passon
Writer(s): Mark Kruger (adapted from a novel by Shirley Jackson)
Region of Origin: USA
Rating: n/a
Color, 90 mins

Synopsis: Two isolated sisters and their uncle contend with an unwanted guest. 

We Have Always Lived in the Castle is a story about the most resilient type of ghosts. I’m talking of course about the memories and events from our past, which shape and inform who we become and how people view us. Pulling from Shirley Jackson’s haunting novel, director Stacie Passon crafts an empowering fairy tale about the familial bonds that transcend whatever life throws at us. With its striking visuals and impeccable performances, this is a fully formed adaptation, resulting in something that stands on its own. It’s also a genre-bending effort that blends mystery, horror, humor and timely social critique, while crackling with both charm and menace.

Sisters Merricat (Taissa Farmiga) and Constance (Alexandra Daddario) Blackwood live alone in a large manor outside of Vermont, with only their ailing Uncle Julian (Crispin Glover). Together, these three are the only survivors of a mysterious murder that claimed the lives of their once prominent family. Looked upon with disgrace amidst the community, the family keeps to themselves, taking advantage of their life of solitude. Everything is quickly upended, however, with the sudden arrival of their cousin Charles (Sebastian Stan). He’s charming, handsome and while Constance immediately takes to him, Merricat feels unsettled. Charles wastes no time putting down roots, and it soon becomes clear that he has no intention of leaving. This drives a wedge between the sisters, their uncle and their way of life, leading them to confront unsaid feelings and life-altering decisions.

Like any good chamber piece, Passon uses an intricate microcosm to dissect her characters and the world they’ve created. This is a family who has been through a lot, but managed to maintain their own truths amidst a fractured reality. Passon explores freedom through isolation, painting a portrait of lives in stasis as numerous mysteries grow and fester. Throughout, Passon juggles a tone that’s unclassifiable, allowing what isn’t said to create subtle dread, even as wit and superstition add charm and surreal flourishes. Really, the less said about the plot the better, because it is something that evolves and shifts in the best way. What I can say, is that underneath it all, this is an enchanting survivor story. Tying everything together are two strong women who defy expectation and navigate the world around them, needing only each other. Theirs is a special bond, one that’s tested and pushed to its limits and rendered with a complexity rarely seen.

We Have Always Lived in the Castle review Crispin GloverUnder Passon’s smart direction, the cast shines. Taissa Farmiga is incredible as Merricat. Farmiga is the film’s heart and soul, not relying on quirk, but using it to supplant raw emotions that are all-too-relatable. She perfectly embodies the film’s delicate tones, sincerely ranging from manic to understated in endearing ways. Under anyone else, this character could’ve felt obnoxious, but Farmiga gives it weight and honesty. Alexandra Daddario makes Constance someone who could explode at any moment. She’s always too perfect or too nice, carrying these heartbreaking burdens by suppressing bleak reality with a smile. Sebastian Stan is the film’s lightning rod. He shows up, pretty much steals the show and brings with him his own set of confounding contradictions. In the best way, we never know what to think of him, but we’re always entrapped by his charisma. Last but certainly not least, Crispin Glover’s Julian sends the film over the edge, grounding things and giving them context with a performance that’s both parts bizarre and engaging.

Passon’s latest is a knockout. What she’s brought to life is an affecting tragedy that maintains an understated sense of hope and wit. It also defies expectation at every turn, constantly keeping us guessing as it entertains. We Have Always Lived in the Castle is light on its feet but doesn’t shy away from the horror and pain that hides deep within. Above all, it’s a poignant reflection of how, for better or worse, nothing is stronger than family.