Merricat, Constance and their Uncle Julian live in isolation after experiencing a family tragedy six years earlier. When cousin Charles arrives to steal the family fortune, he also threatens a dark secret they’ve been hiding.
The summary above fails to mention that the family tragedy in which Merricat and Constance’s parents and aunt died came about because they were poisoned at a family dinner, which really feels like burying the lede. Constance was briefly jailed for the crime but ultimately charges were dropped, so now the trio live like hermits in their mansion because everyone in town still believes Constance murdered her parents.
[Editor’s Note: I wrote this in April 2021 so some of my references to things upcoming are “out-of-date”, as it were.]
Allow me to preface that I had not read, nor knew anything about, the book that this movie is based on prior to watching. And I’m gonna be straight with y’all because this is a safe space: I put this movie on purely for Sebastian Stan. (Okay and also because it was a book adaptation, so it felt like a uniquely perfect intersection of both my interests.) Somewhere between my MCU rewatch during Spring Break last month and the start of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier I acquired a new-found crush on Bucky Barnes. And since Disney+ is being rude forcing me to wait an entire WEEK between
each fix new episodes, I’ve had to fill my time in other ways, hence: this movie.
I did read a synopsis of the book afterwards, and, for the most part, it seems like the movie hits all the same plot beats (though the ending comes about a bit differently). I can’t tell you if it captured the spirit of the book perfectly—unless that spirit was vaguely sinister and at times numbingly slow, in which case, brava!
I have seen exactly zero of Taissa’s filmography until now; in fact, I had no idea she existed until I started this movie and wondered who this child-version of Vera Farmiga was! I’ll bet her stint on American Horror Story was perfect practice for this role, as Merricat (which, btw, has to be one of the worst character nicknames I’ve ever heard, and I am currently crushing on a character named Bucky) is completely creepy. Fun fact: she never smiles until the very last shot of the movie. Take of that what you will.
Alexandra will always be the girl who played Annabeth in the regrettable Percy Jackson adaptations, though I do not feel she embodied the awesomeness of Book!Annabeth at all. But, despite not having a reference, I do think she was a perfect fit for Constance. In real life I am always struck by how perpetually surprised her naturally wide-eyed baby blues make her look, but it completely fits the “slightly desperate to please and pretend everything in her weird life is totally normal” vibe Constance gives off.
Of course, Crispin will always be known as George McFly from Back to the Future despite his extensive filmography. Uncle Julian was also poisoned at the ill-fated family dinner but managed to survive, though not without some damage to his person. He spends his days writing his…memoir? Non-fiction fiction?…that is basically a history of the night his wife and brother were murdered and serves to handily dole out snippets of backstory for the viewers. Definitely the most tragic character of the movie.
(I couldn’t write this post without this gif; you’re welcome.)
Uh, IMBD just informed me Sebastian’s in pre-production of a TV Mini-series about Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee, in which he will be playing Tommy Lee, LOLOL. Anyway, cousin Charles is a smarmy gold-digger who attempts to charm the skirts off Constance (so I’m hoping, like, second cousin once removed or something??) but can’t fool Merricat, who hates him with a fiery passion. It’s not Sebastian’s hottest look when he’s, like, literally beating a child—kudos to everyone’s acting in that scene because I was majorly uncomfortable watching it—but the filmmaker did slip in that shirtless moment (see above) to make up for it. (Shallowly and apropos of nothing, I am looking forward to the release of Monday, which looks to have 90% more shirtlessness and 100% less child violence.)
Couch-Sharing Capability: Low
By the time I got to the last 20 minutes I barely wanted to share the couch with myself. It’s not that the movie was bad, but it definitely could’ve ended earlier. I was on board for the first two thirds, but once the fire started it dragged. I did not need to hear one more villager taunting my ears with a drawn-out, “Meeeeriiiiiicaaat”. Go it alone or watch with a patient Shirley Jackson fan.
Recommended Level of Inebriation: A Snifter Of Fine Scotch
The Blackwoods are rich-rich, so make it aged and amber-colored or don’t even come out to play.
Use of Your Streaming Subscription: Depends On Why You’re Watching
Well, so… If you’re really into slow, gothic mysteries or are desperate to see how this adaptation came out, it’s worth a looksee and, luckily, very low-stakes what with being on Netflix. (You can always start to play Freecell if you find your attention waning during the slow bits.) And if you’re tuning in purely for the eye-candy, then just be aware it’s going to be slightly manic and disturbing eye-candy.