It’s no small feat to make Shirley Jackson’s eerie prose portraits of cloistered eccentrics in hostile surroundings feel like the forced whimsy of Tim Burton in sleepwalk mode, but that’s how Stacie Passon’s “We Have Always Lived in the Castle” regrettably plays.
The “Haunting of Hill House” author’s 1962 novel told a fractured yet deeply personal fairy tale of secluded sisters — 18-year-old Merricat (Taissa Farmiga), beholden to magic spells, and agoraphobic older Constance (Alexandra Daddario) — who live in a well-kept, isolated manor, and are bound by murderous tragedy and enduring ostracization from the nearby village.
The movie, though, which was adapted by Mark Kruger, is all surface polish and play-acted oddness, from the cloying symmetry of the stalely composed shots (Wes Anderson, what have ye wrought?) to the cartoonish depiction of some awfully complicated — nigh perverse — family relationships.
Farmiga, her outsider mannerisms hamstrung by the art school project surroundings, and Daddario, whose mannered turn is routinely upstaged by her ’50s-housewife apparel, simply have no chemistry, when the Blackwood sisters’ bond is at the core of Jackson’s us-against-the-world theme.
The appearance of Sebastian Stan as suspiciously friendly, manipulative cousin Charlie shows initial promise as a source of tension, but it too fizzles as we edge closer to the truth behind the crime that’s enshrined them all as town freaks. Heightened but airless, this “Castle” is like a checklist of the novel’s peculiarities, rather than its singular soul brought to life.
‘We Have Always Lived In The Castle’
Running time: 1 hour, 36 minutes