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Review: We Have Always Lived in the Castle Is a Twisty, Terrifying Time

3/5 hidden objects in the yard

Still of Merricat Blackwood in We Have Always Lived in the Castle.

We Have Always Lived in the Castle is the frightening tale of the Blackwood family, who inhabit that eponymous castle. When we meet them, they are secluded from townsfolk and lost to the past and the views of their father. Problems arise, however, when cousin Charles Blackwood (Sebastian Stan) comes to town and wants to change their way of life.

Based on the 1962 novel by Shirley Jackson and directed by Stacie Passon, We Have Always Lived in the Castle is considered a “mystery-thriller,” never quite crossing the line into full-blown horror. Merricat Blackwood (Taissa Farmiga) wants only to protect her older, more naive sister, Constance (Alexandra Daddario), at whatever cost. Whether that be by going into the town that despises them so Constance doesn’t have to, or adopting the ideas of witchcraft to protect them both, Merricat is weighed down by intense anxieties and doesn’t have anyone to help her; five years ago, the young women were orphaned after their parents’ mysterious death by poisoning.

With just their ailing Uncle Julian (Crispin Glover) at the secluded estate with them, both the women could live their lives without being questioned. That is, until, cousin Charles arrives with his eye on the family’s fortune.

I found myself agreeing with Charles’s perspective sometimes, which is maybe a fault of mine. Sure, he’s greedy and wants to be a part of the family for the money, but he has a point in that Merricat is wasting their assets by obsessively burying them in the yard, and Charles has rightful concerns about her not being able to find their belongings. Because he is a threat to their strange way of life, Charles soon finds himself attacked and a villain inside the home. To be fair to all parties, I understand where they are all coming from, but it’s new for me to feel more sympathy with the seeming interloper than with the protagonist.

This is a movie filled with strange characters, set in a town possessed by rage that doesn’t make that much sense against the Blackwood family. They have a family history in the town and the people there don’t like them for their money, but that intense villager hatred seems to be more deeply rooted in something we never see. This is an area that could be better developed. Still, that hatred runs throughout the entire movie and certainly makes life “interesting” for both Merricat and Constance. Much more richly drawn is that all-too-atmospheric castle, a credit to Jackson’s mind, Passon’s vision, and her team’s execution.

At its heart, the most frightening parts of this movie are elements that are as everyday today as they are gothic: abuse, repression, greed, family secrets, and innate misunderstanding of who people really are.

We Have Always Lived In The Castle is visually stunning, a fresh look at the Shirley Jackson story, and has a slow-building dread that will stay with you. It’s spooky, but not savagely scary. Also Sebastian Stan shirtless in a bathtub? Yes, please!

(image: Brainstorm Media)

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Rachel Leishman (She/Her) is an Assistant Editor at the Mary Sue. A writer her whole life but professionally starting back in 2016 who loves all things movies, TV, and classic rock. Resident Spider-Man expert, official Leslie Knope, actually Yelena Belova. Wanda Maximoff has never done anything wrong in her life. Star Wars makes her very happy. New York writer with a passion for all things nerdy. Yes, she has a Pedro Pascal podcast. And also a Harrison Ford one.