By Jennifer Szalai May 16, 2019
In “We Have Always Lived in the Castle,” a playfully arch and unsettling film based on Shirley Jackson’s 1962 novel, there’s nobody obvious to root for; everyone is dour, foolish, phony or deranged. Possibly even murderous. Under Stacie Passon’s precise direction, this gothic fable of isolation and violence expertly treads a fine line between tragedy and camp.
Merricat (Taissa Farmiga), still childlike at 18, lives in the cavernous Blackwood family chateau with her older sister, Constance (Alexandra Daddario), and their sickly Uncle Julian (a reliably furtive Crispin Glover). The girls’ parents died several years ago after eating a suspicious meal that left Uncle Julian debilitated and the sisters shunned. Constance, unfailingly coifed and composed, makes do as a dutiful homemaker, baking pies and canning fruit with a glistening smile plastered on her pretty face. A skulking, slouching Merricat endures the taunts of the townspeople when she makes weekly trips for provisions, rushing home to bury trinkets in the castle’s enormous garden and casting protective spells.
The sisters take care of each other; they cuddle in bed and fantasize about living on the moon, which hangs outside of Merricat’s window like a cartoon cutout. Their home is full of lush fabrics, gorgeous wallpaper and a worrying number of candles. (Piers McGrail’s cinematography makes the tableaus look like twisted photo spreads from Life magazine.) Farmiga’s Merricat speaks in a clipped cadence that sounds both creepy and competent; her knowledge of mushroom toxicology is troublingly comprehensive. Uncle Julian silently glides into the frame in his wheelchair, suddenly reciting cryptic lines from the family history he’s writing. Constance tends to the house in what appears to be a state of willful oblivion, looking cheerful and stunned.
The delicate balance of the household is upended with the arrival of Charles (Sebastian Stan), a dashing cousin who seems helpful at first but whose authoritarian streak reveals itself when he takes an aggressive interest in Merricat’s buried treasures and starts calling Constance “Connie.” (Having him chug milk from the carton is also a nice touch.) Like the jeering men in the town, Charles turns out to be an entitled patriarch; under every languid grin lies a leer and a smirk.
Mark Kruger’s screenplay isn’t subtle, but then neither is Jackson’s novel — a sharp, demented fairy tale in which the women live happily ever after despite the men, rather than because of them. The outside world is cruel, capricious, inhospitable; only when the sisters lock themselves inside their crumbling castle can they truly be free.
We Have Always Lived in the Castle
Director Stacie Passon
Writer Mark Kruger
Stars Patrick Joseph Byrnes, Una Carroll, Peter Coonan, Joanne Crawford, Alexandra Daddario
Running Time 1h 30m
Genres Drama, Mystery, Thriller
Adapted from Shirley Jackson’s 1962 mystery novel, We Have Always Lived in the Castle (out May 17) stars Taissa Farmiga as Merricat Blackwood, who lives with her sister Constance (Alexandra Daddario) and her Uncle Julian (Crispin Glover). The trio are survivors of an arsenic poisoning that killed everyone else in the family five years prior. Merricat is bold and imaginative, and protects the property with “spells”. Despite being hated by the townspeople, the sisters live an idyllic life, until cousin Charles (Sebastian Stan) arrives. Charles offers to help around the house, and inquires about the family’s finances. Constance is charmed by Charles, and Merricat resents Charles’ intrusion. As Charles and Merricat battle for control, tragedy threatens to strike again.
“I read Castle first when I was in high school,” said filmmaker Stacie Passon in her director’s statement. “It is smart, suspenseful, dark satire. The story, narrated by an 18-year-old sociopathic girl named Merricat Blackwood, is a rich mix of American political and social commentary. The themes of isolation, gender, class warfare seem even more relevant today.”
We Have Always Lived in the Castle is released in theaters and on VOD, May 17.
Exclusively watch the film’s trailer above.
Reviews: ‘St. Agatha’ sports a psycho nun; ‘The Isle’ offers location, location, location; yet another ‘Amityville’; plus the MMA noir of ‘A Violent Man
Some of horror’s most memorable movies happened because the filmmakers had access to a great location: like a shopping mall or an abandoned hospital. In the case of Matthew and Tori Butler-Hart’s supernatural thriller “The Isle,” it was the remote Scottish island of Eilean Shona.
Co-written and co-produced by the married Butler-Harts — and directed by Matthew — “The Isle” follows the plight of three mid-19th century shipwrecked sailors, who make their way to a tiny island, cloaked in mist. There they meet the four residents: the gregarious Fingal (Dickon Tyrrell), the standoffish Douglas (Conleth Hill), his niece Lanthe (Tori Butler-Hart), and the roving madwoman, Korrigan (Alex Wilton Regan).
The three seamen (played by Alex Hassell, Graham Butler and Fisayo Akinade) quickly realize the islanders won’t make it easy for them to leave. There are no boats to ferry them home; and a mysterious wailing appears whenever they even think about escaping.
“The Isle” isn’t especially scary. It’s more of an adventure/mystery, as the heroes keep pressing their hosts — at the risk of their own lives — for more information about where they are, and about what happened to the people who used to lived there.
But the picture’s a pleasure to watch throughout, largely because of Eilean Shona. The Butler-Harts built their story around the place, and don’t squander any of the spectacular scenery. This island looks like something from a dark fairy tale — so that’s exactly what the filmmakers have made.
Running time: 1 hour, 36 minutes
Playing: Starts Feb. 8, Laemmle Glendale, Glendale; also on VOD
Gentle, wistful and often quite beautiful, Bruce Thierry Cheung’s “Don’t Come Back From the Moon” is a dreamlike meditation on abandoned children and dying locations.
Set amid the arid emptiness of California’s Salton Sea, its almost alien landscape in perfect harmony with the movie’s title, the filament of story unfolds through the teenage eyes and low-key narration of Mickey (Jeffrey Wahlberg). His small community, he tells us, was once a holiday destination, but the lake is shrinking and the last factory has closed. Now men are leaving, slinking off into the night without explanation — except for one, whose exit note says he has gone to the moon.
Trailer: ‘Don’t Come Back From the Moon’CreditCreditVideo by Brainstorm Media Mickey’s father (a briefly seen James Franco) is the latest to depart, leaving Mickey to worry about his quietly devastated mother (a wonderfully subdued Rashida Jones), and his younger brother (Zackary Arthur). The bond between the siblings, and among their similarly deserted friends, is the one emotional constant in a movie that weaves pain and anger and sorrow into a haunting mood of unresolved yearning.
Adapting Dean Bakopoulos’s 2005 novel, Cheung fashions a sense that time has stopped and lives are suspended — until fathers come home, or prosperity returns. Children forced too soon to become adults act out and draw inward in scenes that some may find aimless and metaphorically strained. Yet the movie’s emotional potency is undeniable, its slow crescendo of wounded feelings and shimmering photography leaving unexpected imprints on the eyes and heart.
Don’t Come Back from the Moon NYT Critic’s Pick
An exasperatingly slick documentary with a charismatic subject, “Team Khan” follows two years in the rise of British-born Muslim boxer Amir Khan, a dashing champion chasing the ultimate test of greatness: a match against the likes of a Floyd Mayweather or Manny Pacquiao.
Directors Blair Macdonald and Oliver Clark secured great access across training sessions, photo-ops, moments with wife Faryal and their 2-year-old daughter, and spirited get-togethers in gray suburban Northwest England with his extended Punjabi clan. If “Team Khan” offers any insight as it aggressively packages him with the familiar tropes of verité sports-doc portraiture, it’s how the closeness of Khan’s relatives — many of whom work for him — keep him grounded behind that high-wattage smile and disciplined drive to make the most of his lightning quick blows.
Built around a few key bouts in Las Vegas and New York meant to set him up for that hoped-for call to challenge a legend, the directors’ “Rocky”-ish approach has its upside (Khan is easy to root for) and downside (is this a film or a commercial?). There are also side trips to cement his philanthropic bona fides, including a trip to Pakistan to show support after 2014’s Peshawar school massacre, and a visit to his ancestral village. If your taste for athletic snapshots has tired of tales of the troubled, Khan’s at least smoothly offers someone as comfortable being a Muslim hero and family man as he is a fast-jabbing contender.
A Father’s Nightmare makes Lifetime history with not one, not two but THREE endings! Vivica A. FOX stars in two new movies and August brings all new thrills that are sure to keep the end of summer as hot as the beginning!
To be a part of history and vote for the alternate ending YOU want to see - watch the first airing of A Father’s Nightmare on July 22nd on Lifetime. To see if your ending was chosen, watch the second airing on July 27th on Lifetime Movie Network. Reeling from the recent death of his wife, Matt (Joel Gretsch, Push, The Vampire Diaries) sends his daughter Lisa (Kaitlyn Bernard, 1922) off to college, where she falls under the spell of her older, more mature roommate, Vanessa (Jessica Lowndes, 90210, A Deadly Adoption). As Vanessa’s manipulation sets Lisa on a downward spiral, Lisa and Matt grow further apart, while her dependence on Vanessa deepens. But, will Matt figure out what’s really going on before it’s too late? A Father’s Nightmare, presented by Brainstorm Media and WIN is produced by Sepia Films. Meyer Shwarzstein and Larry Gershman executive produce, Tina Pehme and Kim C Roberts produce, Vic Sarin serves as director and Shelley Gillen as writer.
At initial glance, the notion of Shakespeare’s oft-reinvented “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” reset in modern-day Los Angeles complete with a surfer dude Puck and texted soliloquies wouldn’t exactly lend itself to movie magic.
But darned if Casey Wilder Mott’s feature directorial debut doesn’t prove to be a disarmingly effective, visually vibrant frolic.
While previous incarnations have become rock operas or set against a disco beat (1999’s “The Donkey Show”), it was probably only a matter of time before you’d find a Hermia (Rachael Leigh Cook) who’s a movie star dubbed H-Pup, or a Theseus (Ted Levine), now a big-shot Hollywood producer, landing the cover of Variety as Showman of the Year.
And even though the play is no longer the thing (it’s now a very-low-budget film), and this time the overzealous Bottom (Fran Kranz) finds his head transformed into an ass of the human anatomical variety, somehow it all works.
Credit an energy level that takes its buoyant cue from Baz Luhrmann’s “Romeo + Juliet” and a similarly sprightly cast, with especially delightful work by Avan Jogia’s impish Puck and Lily Rabe’s Helena, recast as a brooding screenwriter.
Meanwhile Mott, who started out in Hollywood working in the fabled William Morris Agency mailroom, nimbly choreographs all the updating, resulting in a breezy, cute-and-clever confection that’s tailor-made for a sultry midsummer’s night.
As two well-heeled aesthetes living in a version of gay paradise, where one partner hosts a cooking show that the other produces, Erasmus (Steve Coogan) and Paul (Paul Rudd) are ambivalent about the prospect of parenthood.
But when Erasmus’s estranged son is sent to prison, leaving Erasmus’s troubled young grandson Bill in his and Paul’s care, the couple adapt to the child’s needs. For better and for worse, their parenting style matches their prickly relationship. Flighty Erasmus plans parties to help Bill make friends, while duty-bound Paul takes over mundane tasks like packing lunches and driving the boy to his Santa Fe elementary school.
The director of “Ideal Home,” Andrew Fleming, based the movie on his own experience as the second parent to his partner’s child, and the movie thrives by depicting the idiosyncratic textures of gay relationships. “Ideal Home” is genuinely funny, and the poignant and pithy script is aided by the chemistry between its stars, who are equally adept with comedic punch lines as they are with dramatic gut punches. Refreshingly, the film’s tone seems pitched more to gay audiences than straight ones. Erasmus and Paul would prefer white wine over beer, thank you, and there is a pleasing and rare lack of self-consciousness about the way the characters engage with their identities.
“Ideal Home” avoids explicitly addressing its politics until the credits, which play over a photo montage of real gay families. Mr. Fleming’s gesture is clearly heartfelt, but in a film that avoids the sappiness so frequently reserved for gay domesticity in popular entertainment, it is the one sentimental sleight of hand that gives the game away.
Ideal Home NYT Critic’s Pick
Stephen King Novella ‘The Gingerbread Girl’ Gets Movie Deal With Brainstorm Media; Radiant Sells In Cannes
Stephen King’s novella The Gingerbread Girl has been optioned by U.S. production and distribution outfit Brainstorm Media, which plans to distribute the film in North America. Mimi Steinbauer’s Radiant Films International is launching foreign sales efforts on the thriller in Cannes.
Frequent King collaborator Craig R. Baxley will direct the film from a screenplay written by King and Baxley. Mitchell Galin will produce. Casting is currently underway.
Baxley has previously directed the King adaptations Storm of the Century, The Triangle, Kingdom Hospital and Rose Red, while Galin produced the adaptations of King’s Pet Sematary, The Stand, Thinner, The Night Flier, Creepshow 2, The Langoliers and Golden Years.
The Gingerbread Girl originally appeared in Esquire magazine, and was later included in King’s 2008 collection of stories Just After Sunset. The story focuses on Emily, a woman recovering from a recent loss in a secluded house in the loneliest stretch of New England. She avoids contact with her husband and her father and channels her grief into a grueling daily running regimen. This is doing her all kinds of good, until one day she makes the mistake of looking into the driveway of a man named Pickering. Pickering also enjoys privacy, but the young women he brings to his home suffer the consequences of knowing him. The tension hinges on whether Em will be next.
“We are excited to be working with Craig and Mitchell on this film. This cat-and-mouse thriller will appeal to Stephen King fans everywhere,” Brainstorm Media president Meyer Shwarzstein said.
“You cannot find a more valuable or bankable name than Stephen King in today’s market, and this pulse-pounding thriller with memorable characters and gripping tension will be exactly what buyers are looking for in Cannes,” said Radiant CEO Mimi Steinbauer.
Upcoming releases for Brainstorm include Ideal Home starring Paul Rudd and Steve Coogan and A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
This is the second deal for a King novel announced in Cannes, following our scoop on Netflix acquisition In The Tall Grass.
Development and Production
Since its inception in 1995, Brainstorm Media has developed and produced dozens of titles, many in partnership with major television and streaming companies including Netflix, Hulu, Syfy, Hallmark, Lifetime, and BET. Original productions include Little Men, Mortified Nation, 13 Nights of Elvira, Blast Vegas, Summer in the City, Rediscovering Christmas, and Soul Santa.
Founder Meyer Shwarzstein is a pioneer in the business of selling feature films to television. Under his leadership, Brainstorm Media became an early distributor of independent film on pay-per-view and video-on-demand. As the independent film business has adapted over the years, Brainstorm has evolved into a full-service, all-rights, boutique distributor with deep, longstanding relationships with television buyers and direct distribution deals that span the current digital landscape.
Known for our creativity and flexibility, we craft every release strategy to fit the film. Armed with the wisdom of our 25+ years in the business and a passion for the content we represent, we continue to navigate the ever-changing media ecosystem with excitement.