Directed by Stacie Passon
Written by Mark Kruger (screenplay), based on the novel by Shirley Jackson
Starring Taissa Farmiga, Alexandra Daddario, Crispin Glover, Sebastian Stan
Running Time 1 hour, 30 minutes
By Rosalie Kicks, Old Sport
When a guest wears out their welcome, I don’t believe one should feel anguish when their mind turns to murder. This especially rings true in the scenario of a visitor who chooses to arrive unannounced. If someone were to stopover to my home unexpectedly, anything goes. This person was not invited, instead they have invaded and they are owed nothing. However, because I am a kind, gentle soul ingrained with “good” manners, I would invite them to my dinner table, by candlelight I suppose, for a delicious spread with a side of arsenic.
In the film, We Have Always Lived in the Castle, the Blackwood sisters, Constance (Alexandra Daddario) and Merricat (Taissa Farmiga) live as recluses with their invalid Uncle Julian (Crispin Glover), in a massive estate tucked away in the forest. They live by a disciplined routine. Tuesday is grocery day, dinner is served promptly, and the garden is tended daily. These habits provide the small family with a feeling of relief and provide balance. This is especially true for main character Merricat who fills her time dabbling in witchcraft, performing spells and rituals in hopes to cast good fortune on their household.
Their life of isolation, caused by a past tragedy, is interrupted when Cousin Charles (Sebastian Stan) shows up on their doorstep. The uninvited caller causes much tension within the household, particularly for Merricat and Uncle Julian. Initially, it seems that his mere existence is the cause of their strife. As the character is revealed it is learned that his motives are not sincere. Cousin Charles tries to make it seem that his intentions are out of concern for the family and their struggle to move forward from their tragic past. His sly and cunning behavior doesn’t get too far with Merricat and Uncle Julian, who don’t say much more to him than, “When are you leaving?”
Constance is pleased and appreciative of Cousin Charles presence. His companionship fills a void for Constance and allows her to step out of the motherly role that she is placed in by Merricat and Uncle Julian. Almost immediately there is a noticed change to Constance’s behavior. She becomes confident and determined to go against the habitual schedule.
Although, it does not take too long to realize that Cousin Charles’ motives are not sincere, the film keeps you gripped and entrenched in the story. What makes this film so captivating is that on the surface, everything seems splendid. A family enjoying a quiet country European life, donning beautiful clothes (seriously everything worn in this film, I wanted in my closet), enjoying candlelit dinners in an exquisite setting and taking pleasure in hobbies such as gardening, writing, and toxicology. Chatting about poison always makes for such enthralling dinner conversation!
With a swift ninety minute run time, the story does not take too long to reveal they are living in an alternate reality from the rest of the world. The filmmaker does such a great job of sharing the story like breadcrumbs, so that we continue to follow along. However, it is the superb cast that truly brings this wonderfully written script to life. Each character is so interesting and we are afforded time to learn the eccentricities of each of them. From Uncle Julian’s paranoid personality of thinking Cousin Charles is out to destroy his magnum opus that he is compulsively working on to Merricat’s hunched skulking about - these actors were committed to telling this story and engaging the viewer.
Director Stacie Passon managed to completely immerse me in this world. The story is told starting with the end, therefore in the opening scene it is known that the house is destroyed. When it cuts to the past, and the home is shown, it was painful for me to watch. The production design is absolutely outstanding. In particular, the kitchy 1950s pink and periwinkle blue kitchen, complete with formica table. Knowing that this would be destroyed pained me. Seeing how it was ravaged pained me even more.
This may be only the second film from Stacie Passon, who is more known for her television work (The Punisher and American Gods) but I would have never guessed it. I went into this film for the Crispin and came out a fan of Stacie’s. Not that this is any slight against Crispin, in fact, this obsessive quirky character seemed to be especially written for him and he plays it extremely well. Stacie, however is the one I will truly remember, as she created a film worthy to be shown on the big screen and it is a shame that many will probably experience it on one that fits in your hand. She is definitely one that I will watch out for.