We Have Always Lived in the Castle (4 stars)

We Have Always Lived in the Castle

EIFF 2019: Shirley Jackson's final novel becomes an intensely involving mystery drama

Sympathetic magic is the brand of witchcraft practiced in We Have Always Lived in the Castle, the final novel written by Shirley Jackson, published in 1962. It's now a mystery drama directed by Stacie Passon (Concussion) and written by Mark Kruger. Although not a horror film, it's essential viewing for admirers of Netflix's recent adaptation of Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House and American Gothic fiction.

Taissa Farmiga – star of The Nun, American Horror Story and sister of The Conjuring's Vera – plays Merricat, a shrewish creature introduced while furtively burying objects in jars around the grounds of the crumbling Blackwood mansion. Merricat believes these spells protect her family; her parents died in mysterious circumstances, and the only remaining inhabitants are her older sister Constance (Alexandra Daddario) and her wandered Uncle Julian (Crispin Glover). The arrival of brutish cousin Charles (Sebastian Stan) changes the dynamic, and the girls' closeness is tested by his aggressive presence.

Anyone in the market for noisy jump scares, glowing eyes and computer-generated demons should look elsewhere; Passon and Kruger have created a visually austere, but intensely involving film with slow-burning anxieties that pay off in a fiery climax. Farmiga and Daddario are both stand-outs, while Glover is perfectly cast as the rambling, failing Julian.

The commercial failure of 2018's The Little Stranger indicates the potential problems with such sophisticated, literate genre entries: too elaborate for all but high-brow cineastes and with not enough meat to satisfy the horror crowd. We Have Always Lived in the Castle faces similar issues, but the sheer quality of this adaptation helps it transcend genre boundaries. Careful writing and production captures the deceptive tone of Jackson's opaque prose, and delivering the complex sentiments of one of her most personal books intact deserves the highest of commendations.

Screening on Thu 27 and Fri 28 Jun as part of the Edinburgh International Film Festival 2019. General release TBC.

We Have Always Lived in the Castle

  • 4 stars
  • 2018
  • US
  • 1h 36min
  • Directed by: Stacie Passon
  • Cast: Taissa Farmiga, Alexandra Daddario, Crispin Glover, Sebastian Stan

Merricat (Farmiga) lives with her family, sister Constance (Daddario) and uncle Julian (Glover) in the crumbling Blackwood mansion; then brutish cousin Charles (Stan) arrives. Visually austere but intensely involving adaptation of Shirley Jackson’s final novel, with standout performances from Farmiga and Daddario;…