Having recently read this well-regarded novel, I decided to seek out the recent movie.
The movie is relatively faithful to the novel. Five years ago, the wealthy Blackwoods family living in their mansion on the hill was poisoned. Daughter Constance (Alexandra Daddario), who prepared the fatal meal, confessed but a jury would not convict someone so beautiful and well-bred – she now lives in the mansion, and cannot bear to leave the grounds.
Her younger sister, who had been sent to her room and thus was not at the fatal dinner, also lives with her. Her name is Mary Catherine (Taissa Farmiga), but everyone calls her Merricat. She lives in her own superstitious world, fears outsiders, and weaves spells of protection for her beloved older sister.
Also living with them is Uncle Julian (Crispin Glover), the only survivor of the poisoning. He dedicates himself to writing a book about the murders, but is limited by poor health and a weak mind.
Constance cooks and gardens, both sisters clean the house, and Merricat ventures into the village once a week on a dreaded trip to obtain food and library books. Since father didn't believe in banks, they have cash reserves in the house.
And then everything changes when cousin Charles (Sebastian Stan) comes to visit. Is he really their cousin? What are his motives? Will Constance fall for him? Can Merricat protect her sister?
The movie moves along at a good pace, all of the performances are fine, and the ending is interesting.
Michael Douglas was an executive producer, but does not appear in the film.
If you've read the novel, you'll notice occasional differences due to streamlining the plot to fit the movie format, extra scenes or lines to help explain the plot, and a significant change to the ending. One challenge for the movie, given that the novel is told from Merricat's perspective, is that it must show us 'the real' Merricat – nervous, dour, hyper, plain, obsessive. One advantage the movie has is that it better shows the antagonism between the Blackwoods and the villagers. The movie's Uncle Julian is less feeble than the novel's version. Constance is much older than in the novel. The house seems enormous from the exterior (it's an Irish country home), but cramped inside, and the harp has been transformed into a piano. Constance's beloved garden is barely seen.
The novel is deliberately ambiguous about whether there was sexual abuse in the family, or whether the sisters' relationship is more than sisterly. The movie explicitly shows Merricat as motivated to keep Constance out of any romantic relationships. It too hints at sexual abuse and lesbianism, but remains ambiguous. Cousin Charles is less verbally abusive and more physically abusive.
I thought it missed the mark in capturing the novel. It is comedic at times rather than horrific. I didn't like the portrayal of Merricat compared to the novel. However, the movie is entertaining in its own right.