Written by: Terence Johnson, CC2K Staff Writer
We Have Always Lived in the Castle is a curious creature of a movie. Adapted from the Shirley Jackson novel of the same name, it’s a rare adaptation which honors the source material with it’s changes. Unfortunately, the praises for this movie stop about there as the film’s stilted approach makes for an unfortunately boring watch.
Merricat Blackwood (Taissa Farmiga) narrates the picture and we see her amongst the ruins of what looks to have been a once great house. This being a film about a memory, We Have Always Lived in a Castle flashes back to a much simpler time, when the house stood in its former glory. Young Merricat is sent to town every week to pick up supplies for her family, the doting and bright eyed Constance (Alexandra Daddario) and her forgetful uncle (Crispin Glover). Each time, it’s an ordeal, with the townspeople heckling her and side eyeing her every move. She survives these encounters by practicing sympathetic magic. She nails her father’s notebook of spells to a tree, knowing that at least nothing will enter their home. Returning home one day, she discovers the book laying on the ground, her wards effectively broken. To make matters worse, a man, her Uncle Julian (Sebastian Stan) is also inside the home. His presence becomes like a cloud and the townspeople’s resentment and distrust of the family grows to epic proportions, forcing them to reckon with the past.
The filmmaking of We Have Always Lived in the Castle is pretty straight up and down, meaning that what you see is what you get. It’s not safe per say, but it doesn’t push any boundaries. Not every movie needs that kind of verve, but We Have Always Lived in the Castle suffers from an inertia which only lifts during the end of the second act and once again near the very end of the film. Gazing at beautiful, pretty things and people will always be a hallmark of cinema; however, if it’s only that coming to the table, a lifeless movie is all you’ll end up with.
Look no further than Sebastian Stan’s character Uncle Julian and how the combination of performance, staging and script combine to unfortunately feel as though it’s missing a key element. The movie gives this character more of an outline of a menace rather than a force. We know he’s shady because our main character doesn’t trust them and all of his comments about money and selling things are treated as dead giveaways that he’s bad news. In one scene, Julian discovers that Merricat buried her father’s gold watch and laments they could have sold it. The scene screams, “He only cares about money!” which is at odds with the family’s apparent ability to live comfortably up until that point. Without Alexandra Daddario there to save the day, time and time again, moments like this one would ultimately oversimplify the picture.
Luckily, there’s a shining light in this movie, the amazing aforementioned Alexandra Daddario, whose eternal optimism and the understated understanding of her performance is a wonder to witness. Whether she’s genuinely happy or trying to keep an uneasy peace, Daddario keeps us guessing in every scene, providing an unease and intrigue the movie desperately needs. It’s not just that she’s there to be a reflection, but there’s deep deep character work going on in her head which shows on screen.
Even with Daddario’s wonderful performance, We Have Always Lived in the Castle ultimately cannot overcome it’s faults. With so much potential, viewers can only bang on the door of this movie, begging to be let in. It seems unfortunate that everything onscreen however wants them kept at a distance.