For anyone who is somewhat a friend of mine, they know that I am a HUGE fan of Gothic literature. Therefore, when it was announced that Daphne du Maurier’s great Gothic romance, Rebecca, was being adapted once again into a film for Netflix and not only that, it was going to star the magnificent Lily James, I was beyond excited. After watching it, I have come to the conclusion that I need to stop having such high expectations for films as it really hurts when all my hopes and dreams come crashing down.
In summary, Ben Wheatley’s Rebecca is a massive disappointment and not worth the watch.
For anyone unaware of the plot, Rebecca follows an unnamed young woman (Lily James) as she finds herself in love with a wealthy widower, Maxim de Winter (Armie Hammer). It’s not long before she is swept away from her mundane life to go live with him in his lavish estate. However, upon arriving, she finds herself living in the shadow of the previous Madame de Winter, Rebecca, who seems to have been universally loved by her household before her untimely demise. With impossibly large shoes to fill, Rebecca is a harrowing Gothic classic everyone must read. The same, however, cannot be said of the film and I would not recommend to anyone scrolling desperately through Netflix for something to watch.
First and foremost, it’s important to note that Wheatley’s Rebecca had a lot riding on it as this is not the first time the story has been adapted. In 1940, none other than the master of suspense, Alfred Hitchcock also took his hand at dramatising the Gothic novel for the big screen. And it was excellent. So, not only did the film have to live up to a novel that has a whole array of fans with high expectations, it also had to live up to the Hitchcock adaptation that won the director his first and only Oscar, Sadly, the film does neither, falling short in more ways than one.
Primarily, the casting is disappointing. Hammer, while pleasant on the eye as he adorns an amazing mustard-coloured suit for the first half of the film, is highly uncomfortable and borderline boring as the leading wealthy and mysterious Maxim de Winter. While Lily James is slightly better, she also lacks psychological depth to her unnamed character, again serving only to provide an aesthetic to audience members as we’re in awe of her gorgeous style.
In addition to this, the pace of the film is chaotic. The first half is rushed, almost to the point that you don’t have time to become invested in these characters before they’re suddenly married and moving to Mandeley. This doesn’t improve as the film continues. If you haven’t read the novel, by the second half you’re left confused, with many many questions as to what is happening. 2-hours in length, this film could have benefitted from a shorter run with more detail and depth to the narrative. Rather, the story becomes lost to the aesthetic of the landscape.
Considering the film is directed by Wheatley who is best known for dark thrillers like Kill List and High-Rise, Rebecca lacks the psychological depth and darkness that is clearly evident in the novel. A book about class, desire, obsession and the unreliability of stories filled with suspense and foreboding turns into a flimsy love story that lacks all things spookiness. Which, frankly, is just offensive as we slowly approach Halloween. Striving for visual beauty at the expense of emotional complexity, this film fails to have me on the edge of my seat, in anticipation for what is about to happen. If I hadn’t googled the director before watching, I would not have attached Wheatley’s name to this disaster.
Finally – the ending. This Netflix adaptation consigns one of the most interesting characters in the novel – Mrs Danvers – to a clear doom instead of aiming for more of an ambiguous ending, a feature which is staple to Gothic literature. Often, good art is determined by what is left unsaid at the end, allowing for fans to raise their own suspicions, imagine their own endings. Instead, Rebecca removes this for us as *spoiler alert* Mrs. Danvers jumps off a cliff, unable to live without her beloved Rebecca. There is nothing unnerving about this in the slightest and as the credits rolled, I also couldn’t help but roll my own eyes at such a, mind my language, shitty finale.
Overall, it is clear that Wheatley’s Rebecca is another film that can only be described as favouring style over substance, proving that even if you’re faithful to a source material, you can still produce something terrible. Rebecca has simply proven to me that I need to stop putting such high expectations on films as more often than not, I am left disappointed, wishing I hadn’t watched it to begin with.