(director: Stacie Passon; screenwriters: Mark Kruger/based on the novel by Shirley Jackson; cinematographer: Piers McGrail; editor: Ryan Denmark; music: Andrew Hewitt; cast: Taissa Farmiga (Merricat Blackwood), Alexandra Daddario (Constance Blackwood), Sebastian Stan (Charles Blackwood), Crispin Glover (Uncle Julian), Paula Malcomson (Helen Clarke), Peter O’Meara(Sam Clarke); Runtime: 90; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Jared Ian Goldman, Robert Mitas; Brainstorm Media; 2018)

“Gothic spine-tingling mystery story.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Stacie Passon (“Concussion”) finely directs the creepy Gothic spine-tingling mystery story and Mark Kruger lucidly adapts it from the 1962 novel by Vermont author Shirley Jackson. The director does a good job of creating an atmosphere of dread, paranoia, and isolation.

The 18-year-old Mary Katherine (Taissa Farmiga) is a socially awkward teen nicknamed Merricat, and she will tell her sad family story from her point of view. She lives on the vast secluded estate of Blackwood Manor with her older agoraphobic sister Constance (Alexandra Daddario) and barely functioning wheelchair-bound Uncle Julian (Crispin Glover). Their magnificent home sits high on a hill that towers over a small New England town.

Six years ago a mysterious tragedy involving a poisoning incident traumatized the Blackwood family. The incident took the lives of the parents and left the uncle an invalid (he now is interested only in writing his memoirs). Constance was the prime suspect, but she was tried and acquitted. She now never leaves the grounds and does the cooking for the family.

Most of the townspeople despise the snobbish wealthy family for not being a part of the community, and they think Constance got away with murder because she’s a person of privilege. But, in turn, the Blackwood family loathes the locals for being so common.

Merricat, meanwhile, is the only family member who leaves the estate, as she goes into town once a week for supplies. She spends her days casting magic spells by burying talismans — such as dolls — in her backyard to ward off evil spirits, as she keeps busy trying to make sure the family is kept safe from their outside enemies.

Their estranged, unctuous and slick cousin Charles (Sebastian Stan), a dashing but evil person, comes by in a red sports car convertible for an unannounced visit and begins assuming the role of the family patriarch, and pretends to be interested in the well-being of the girls. He treats Merricat with contempt but uses his charm to court the vulnerable and needy Constance (who can’t resist him), but is really interested only in the money in the family upstairs home safe. His presence completely sends Merricat’s world into a spin, as she instantly despises him. How the town will react to another Blackwood family living there will violently manifest itself in the powerful climax, one that’s filled with fear and hatred.

The film ably gets across Jackson’s desire to observe under these trying circumstances how both Merricat and Constance try to find their own voices, after both have been overshadowed by domineering men all their lives.The result is more of a psychodrama spooky film than a spooky horror film. Even though the film is no match for the book it still has much value.

REVIEWED ON 7/23/2019       GRADE: B+ https://dennisschwartzreviews.com/