We Have Always Lived in the Castle Beautifully Examines Love and Isolation

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Coming to theaters and VOD this Friday is another adaptation of a Shirley Jackson novel.

Jackson's work requires some level of depth to fully appreciate them, and if you're a fan of Netflix's The Haunting of Hill House, you will likely enjoy We Have Always Lived in the Castle.

Starring Taissa Farmiga, Alexandra Daddario, Sebastian Stan, and Crispin Glover -- stars you've come to love on television and in film.

Merricat Goes to Town

We Have Always Lived in the Castle follows the story of Mary Katherine "Merricat" Blackwood (Farmiga) and her sister, Constance (Daddario).

They live together with their uncle in their home above the local town over which their deceased father might have reigned terribly.

Blackwood Castle

Six years prior to the beginning of the film, the Blackwood family got scarred when Constance was believed to have murdered their mother and father and poisoned their Uncle Julian (Glover) over dinner with some sugar-filled arsenic.

Year later, Merricat and Constance are exiled through a combination of the townsfolk's ill behavior and their own desire to shelter themselves from the world at large.

Alexandra Daddario in We Have Always Lived in the Castle

It has a theme that feels similar to what Jackson explored in House on Haunted Hill. The sisters experience loneliness and isolation because their family is different. Making it more daunting is the inherent need of others to classify the sisters and insert themselves into their existence whether invited or not.

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Through Uncle Julian's incessent ramblings, much of the history about the Blackwood family is revealed, and his inability to let go of the tragic loss ensnares Merricat and Constance in a repetitive retelling of one of the worst nights of their lives.

Glover is perfectly suited for Uncle Julian, a man either originally not well in the head or irreparably scarred as a result of the arsenic.

Crispin Glover in We Have Always Lived in the Castle

Still, the deaths of their parents seem somehow justified through Merricat's intense belief in incantations and spells to ward off evil, most especially the return of her father, a feeling that washes over her for the duration of the film.

Whether Merricat has a sense for what's coming is unclear, but when Cousin Charles turns up for an unexpected and extended visit, Merricat is horrified that her worst nighmare has come true and some portion of her father has returned.

Constance is the castle caretaker, fussing over Merricat and providiing assistance to her ailing uncle at the expense of any life for herself.

Of course, there may not be a life for them outside of the home, at least in the town in which they currently reside because the bad blood flows consistently whether directed at their father's memory or out of fear for what Constance did to her family.

Sebastian Stan in We Have Always Lived in the Castle

The Blackwood history and the sisters' secluded existence casts a peculiar pall over their interactions with everyone outside of their very tiny circle.

Danger is always afoot, and it doesn't matter if they're all safely at home or Merricat is off on one of her weekly visits to town for supplies.

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There is a continual unease and feeling of dread that invades their everyday life.

The adapation of the story is very faithful to the book, and writer Mark Kruger and director Stacie Passon use everything in their toolbox to ensure the eccentricities of the Blackwood house never feel too outlandish.

Taissa Farmiga in We Have Always Lived in the Castle

Similar to another book to screen adapation arriving this week (Catch-22), the direction of the film makes it visually stunning. From the costuming to the location, every shot could be suitably framed.

Merricat's mere existence is questionable as she never seems to change her clothes, while Constance is always dressed to perfection.

The sisters' love for each other is the most enduring aspect of the story, as Constance never wavers in her affection for Merricat even when her actions force others to question her odd behavior and almost delusional need to protect her sister.

Constance's simple existence leaves her more vulnerable to the outside world, and Merricat does everything in her power to keep her sister safe and loved.

Constance's Trouble

Charles' appearance looms as an obstacle in their fragile existence, but it's not always said. Instead, Farmiga and Daddario use their expressions to say what is not said out loud.

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That kind of communication can be terribly frustrating for an outsider, and it makes Charles' invasion of their private world all the more menacing.

From the way the family history gets revealed to the underlying humm of tension threatening to explode during seemingly inoccuous scenes, Passon's love for the story is obvious.

Fleeting Happiness at Blackwood House

Until I was made aware of this film, I thought I was unaware of Passon's work, but she's directed some of the most awe-inspring episodes of television in recent years including The Affair Season 4 Episode 6, Halt and Catch Fire Season 4 Episode 4, and The Society Season 1 Episode 4, all which carefully examined women managing a crisis situation with complexity and depth.

Her understanding of women and how their thoughts manifest seems to be a great strength, and it's the driving force behind the success of We Have Always Lived in the Castle.

The film also features Paula Malcomson among the supporting cast.

I highly recommend you check into the Castle in theaters and VOD this Friday, May 17.


Editor Rating: 4.25 / 5.0
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Carissa Pavlica is the managing editor and a staff writer and critic for TV Fanatic. She's a member of the Critic's Choice Association, enjoys mentoring writers, conversing with cats, and passionately discussing the nuances of television and film with anyone who will listen. Follow her on Twitter and email her here at TV Fanatic.

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