Ax on 'Flix

In this week's Netflix pick, Axel reviews "We Have Always Lived in the Castle"

By Axel Marcenaro
On November 22, 2019

Axel Marcenaro, editor-in-chief

“We Have Always Lived in the Castle” is an intriguingly strange film by director Stacie Passon, based on the novel written by Shirley Jackson. It fol­lows an odd girl named Merricat, the youngest daughter of the very wealthy, yet hated, Blackwood family. Merricat adores and is closest with her sister, a beautiful, polite young woman, who is notorious for being charged with the murder of their parents. Aside from the public shaming, their life is relatively stable, until the charming, yet suspicious cousin Charles shows up.

The film does well to immediately disorient the viewer. The family’s situation is so odd and under-explained, Merricat is so­cially stunted and there is an awkward tension that fills the air any­time someone seemingly normal comes into frame. To top it off, a half-crazy uncle is almost constantly rambling in the background, so the viewer is left to discern what is valuable information and what is complete nonsense. This atmosphere and question of “What is going on in this crazy little world?” is impressively maintained throughout the entirety of the film as little clues are divulged.

The acting and character dynamics in this film are superb. Merricat, who is possibly autistic, really ropes the audience into her very odd but fantastical world. Even as she practices some sort of harmless witchcraft and buries household things around the prop­erty, we as viewers automatically take her side when the charming cousin Charles is upset at her for burying dozens of silver pieces un­der a step. His reaction is a rational one in a rational world, but in the strange world of Merricat, it feels hostile. The subtle, yet intense, interaction between the two translates this emotion very well beyond the screen.

The visual style of the film can leave a bit to be desired. Thrill­ers allow for some very creative and mysterious lighting, but this film only takes advantage of that on occasion, generally boasting vivid colors and gentle lighting. When it does do something visually strik­ing, it feels without purpose. Specifically, a shot of Merricat’s sister outside is exposed for the background showing their “castle,” while the shade from the surrounding forest and an overhead tree shroud her in darkness. This midday silhouette effect looked great, but Mer­ricat’s sister is established as a friend very early on, so it felt like a mismatch of character and creative direction.

I think this film does well for casual viewing. It’s not as graph­ic as many in its genre, and it replaces shock with bringing the view­er into a simply uncomfortable and enigmatic world. It could never land a place with the best drama-thrillers, but it doesn’t disappoint as an entertaining and stimulating film. I recommend watching it on one of those late nights you want to feel some suspenseful drama, but don’t care to get lost in a complicated film requiring googled expla­nations of the plot twists and subtexts.

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