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We Have Always Lived in the Castle
A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that We Have Always Lived in the Castle is a gothic-like mystery based on Shirley Jackson's 1962 novel. It's a little lighter -- and more straightforward -- than the book, but it still conjures a striking, appealing mood. There's a murder scene: The victim is hit twice with a blunt object, and a pool of blood is shown. An angry mob throws rocks and vandalizes a house, and men terrorize women; one manhandles a woman and drags her up a flight of stairs. A fire devastates a house, and angry characters yell and hurl hateful insults. Language is infrequent but includes "goddamn," "bastard," and "bitch." A man is seen shirtless, and a woman wears a revealing nightgown. Incidental cigarette smoking and drinking are shown, and an angry mob is referred to as "drunken fools." Taissa Farmiga, Alexandra Daddario, Crispin Glover, and Sebastian Stan co-star.
What's the story?
In WE HAVE ALWAYS LIVED IN THE CASTLE, 18-year-old Mary Katherine Blackwood (Taissa Farmiga) lives on a huge, secluded estate with her older sister, Constance (Alexandra Daddario), and their slightly confused, wheelchair-bound Uncle Julian (Crispin Glover). The rest of the family died of poisoning; Constance was blamed, but she was acquitted. Once a week, Mary Katherine (or "Merricat") makes a trip to town for supplies, where she must endure cruel taunts from hateful townspeople. But otherwise, she's happy. That is, until her cousin Charles (Sebastian Stan) arrives for an extended stay. Though Charles claims to be offering his help, he instead appears to be more interested in a safe full of money -- and in luring Constance away from the house. Merricat takes an instant dislike to him; she starts to use her best spells to drive him away, but she may have met her match.
Is it any good?
Based on Shirley Jackson's great gothic novel, Stacie Passon's movie is perhaps a bit on the light side, but she nonetheless creates a strong, vivid atmosphere in which the characters can flourish. To start, her casting is spot on. The four lead performers all have a certain appealing, edgy quality to them, and none is afraid of genre or horror work. They all dive deeply into the material. We Have Always Lived in the Castle preserves Jackson's themes of evil hidden among the everyday -- not only the hate spewed by the villagers, but also the supreme ego and male entitlement embodied by Charles.
If the movie is missing something, though, it's that Charles comes across as a bit too evil. Stan plays him a bit too broadly, and since the movie is missing the voice of Merricat's deceptive narration, the portrayal is a little too out in the open. Otherwise, Passon's beautiful staging -- along with the majestic, intricate sound design -- helps convey the feel of a house that has been much the same for a very long time. And even though We Have Always Lived in the Castle has a bright, swift quality, it doesn't necessarily betray the moody heart of the story. All in all, Jackson's fans should find plenty to savor here.
Talk to your kids about ...
Does Charles seem like a bully, or does he seem like a strong, assertive man? How can you tell? What's the difference?
What does the movie have to say about "mob mentality"? Have you ever found yourself involved in this kind of thinking? What can be done about it?
If you've read the original book, how does the movie compare?
What does "gothic" mean? How is this story gothic?
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.