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‘We Have Always Lived in the Castle’ Review: A Complex Character Study Draped in Gothic Mystery (LAFF)

Intricate characters, horrific backgrounds, and an overall peculiarity makes this film a deep, but weird watch.
We Have Always Lived In The Castle Laff
By  · Published on September 27th, 2018

There’s quirky, there’s strange, and there’s weird. Our society has a general understanding of how things ought to look or how people ought to act, and when we divert from these norms, we use these labels to describe unfamiliarity. While unfamiliarity can make some uncomfortable, it’s ultimately not bad to be quirky, strange, or weird –– it’s just different, and there’s beauty in that. Look at Tim Burton. He’s made an entire career using distinct, gothic visuals, and he’s beloved –– mostly. Director Stacie Passon’s newest film, We Have Always Lived in the Castle, is an excellent acting spectacle and character study immersed in gothic aesthetic all wrapped into a peculiar mystery. It’s different, but there’s beauty in the difference.

The Blackwood family has always lived in the castle. A product of capitalism, their manor stands on a hill, housing Merricat (Taissa Farmiga), her older sister Constance (Alexandra Daddario) and their uncle Julian (Crispin Glover) in solitude above the town of commoners and blue collar workers. The Blackwood family lives in tragedy, following the mysterious poisoning of several family members some years ago, these three housemates are all that remain. While this crippled family may seem to deserve sympathy from their lowly neighbors, their sheer abundance and comfort still garner hostility and anger from those who work so hard. One day, the Blackwood’s family solitude is challenged by the appearance of the mysterious cousin Charles (Sebastian Stan), who threatens their wealth and well-being.

Accompanying the strange aesthetic and captivating story, the film presents interesting and engaging characters. Each character is portrayed excellently with more complexity and depth than meets the eye. As the story unfolds, we inquisitively want to learn more about each person, but through layered storytelling and clever development, end up uncomfortable from their horrific backgrounds. If anything else, this character study explores how trauma and guilt can bear troublesome consequences.

Farmiga embodies Merricat with quirkiness. She portrays her as a jittery young woman with sullen eyes and a danger radar that never turns off. She walks around with her head sunken below her shoulders, performing magic and spells to keep her family safe. When her family’s safety comes into question, Merricat loses it and does all that she can to restore order to the Blackwoods. Farmiga’s depth and oddity perfectly complement Merricat. Her intrinsic peculiarity comes with a troubled past and as we learn more about this disturbed family, Farmiga’s authenticity really shines through the character.

Then there’s Constance, who is as mysterious as she is strange. She never leaves the castle, sending Merricat into town to purchase groceries and run errands. She’s complex as an unusual maternal character with clear abandonment issues and when cousin Charles comes into her life, she finds a substitute for the love she’s always been missing. Daddario excellently conveys humanity’s need to constantly please others, even when it doesn’t seem appropriate, showcasing a broken and tortured character hiding under the guise of standard womanhood. Her story is incredibly intricate, inviting you to infer about her unusual familial relationships. You always want to learn more about Constance, but quickly regret the inquiry.

Lastly, there’s Julian and Charles. Julian miraculously survives the family poisoning but lives a decrepit life in a wheelchair as the shadow of a man he once was. All he desires is to finish his book, but his dementia makes it difficult for him to keep it all together. Glover often steals the screen as his genuine performance as a helpless, crippled man draws intrigue and sympathy to the multifaceted character. Eventually, we see Glover transform Julian with ferocity and dignity, engulfing the character with unrecognizable depth, it’s captivating to watch.

Following this film and I, Tonya, Sebastian Stan seems to have really nailed the toxic masculinity character. In We Have Always Lived in the Castle, he’s a bully, he’s mean, and when he doesn’t get what he wants, he lashes out. Stan brings Charles to a place we’ve Stan go before, and it’s still very difficult to watch, but it’s an excellent reminder that he can do more than the Winter Soldier.

This film is very weird. It’s unusual to see specifically niche aesthetics, characters that act with such weird mannerisms, and people that are so horrifically evil. But that’s the beauty of this film, its peculiarity brings unique characters that remind you about the toxicity of humanity. We Have Always Lived in the Castle may not hit with some, but it certainly presents a lot to think about.

Lover of coffee, the emdash, and General Hux. Journalism student at Biola University in Los Angeles.