Rebecca — whether or not the 1938 novel, the Oscar-winning 1940 Alfred Hitchcock film adaptation or this new 2020 model directed by Ben Wheatley — is a little bit of a Rorschach check. Its style is slippery: Romance? Horror? Coming of age?
Even figuring out a villain is a deceptively elusive endeavor. Maybe it is the ghoulish head housekeeper Mrs. Danvers (performed right here by a shade-throwing Kristin Scott Thomas) who makes the anonymous protagonist’s married life hell. Or possibly it is the mercurial Maxim de Winter, a task that appears written for Armie Hammer regardless of predating his delivery by nearly 50 years, as a maybe-murderer who’s simply as inaccessible to his second spouse as he’s to viewers. It might even be the eponymous Rebecca, Maxim’s lifeless spouse whose ghost serves severe “not like other girls” vibes.
Or maybe Lily James‘ unnamed narrator and protagonist, identified solely as “the second Mrs. de Winter,” is not as virtuous as she appears.
The story is much less of a whodunit than a who-should-we-root-for (and the way dangerous ought to we really feel about our alternative?) and Wheatley’s new adaptation additional complicates the viewer’s ethical acrobatics. Extra unsettling than actually scary, Rebecca’s horrors are cerebral as a substitute of visceral, making it an ideal addition to any roundup of scary-but-not-too-scary Halloween movies.
Rebecca, which streams on Netflix Oct. 21, is in good firm throughout the “new house, new problems” horror custom (The Amityville Horror, The Shining, Paranormal Activity) or with 2019’s marital bait-and-switch Ready or Not, in that what initially appears like fortunately ever after is definitely the beginning of an disagreeable shock. In Rebecca’s case, the true horror is that marriage is offered to ladies as an aspiration when it is truly extra of a obligatory evil, and the story unfolds with the sinister repercussions of the narrator’s irrevocable selections.
The love affair begins with a touch of this paternalism when the adorably unsophisticated narrator is turned away from a flowery restaurant terrace on the sun-dappled shores of southern France. Maxim comes gallantly to her rescue (with a whiff of Hammer’s signature Winklevii) by inviting her to share his desk. He finds her gaucheness charming as she copies a lunch order she’d heard from the resort’s different wealthy patrons, requesting “des huîtres, une douzaine” — a dozen oysters — for breakfast.
Maxim seduces the narrator — and the viewers — with some very horny, very sandy premarital seashore romps, however the movie quickly darkens as James’ narrator marries after which follows her more and more smarmy new husband to his sprawling English property. Gloomy Manderley dampens their newlywed bliss: The unrefined narrator commits a number of fake pas as newly put in mistress of the home, Maxim’s honeymoon jauntiness evaporates, and Mrs. Danvers makes it clear the second Mrs. de Winter will solely ever take second place to her beloved Rebecca, whose reminiscence permeates each nook, cranny and mysteriously closed off room within the fortress.
“I do not consider in ghosts,” the narrator asserts earlier than arriving at Manderley. However she quickly discovers the home is haunted: by unresolved grief, or one thing darker. The narrator’s hairbrush nonetheless has strands of Rebecca’s darkish hairs nestled among the many bristles. Her raincoat pocket homes a lipstick-smudged handkerchief embroidered with a crazy R monogram. Even her title is not her personal: Whereas many brides wrestle to get used to the Mrs. moniker, the second Mrs. de Winter should subsume the identical title as her husband’s misplaced love.
Like 2017’s Get Out and 2019’s Parasite, Rebecca serves up a spoonful of horror to make the social commentary go down. And like every Gothic movie value its cobwebs, Rebecca gestures on the supernatural whereas remaining firmly rooted within the horrors of actual life. The movie’s spooky parts, ramped up from each the novel and the Hitchcock adaptation, turn out to be a Malicious program for the chilling actuality of heterosexual marriage within the hyper-stratified world of early 20th century England.
There are eerie dream sequences, shifty-eyed maids and a person in a courtroom alleging murrrdah! Maxim is given a sleepwalking behavior, a super-creepy habits with an completely scientific rationalization. There’s even a carnivalesque masquerade scene that leads the viewers to query, for only a second, whether or not this actually is a ghost story. However the scariest factor within the movie is a merciless actuality test from Mrs. Danvers: “He’ll depart you, he’ll divorce you. After which what’ll you do? You possibly can’t remarry now,” she taunts.
Wheatley’s adaptation takes pains to make the narrator’s struggles extra legible to a 21st century viewers, doubling down on the inescapable dread of shortage — that as a result of there’s just one Maxim de Winter, there can solely be one Mrs. de Winter.
At nearly each flip, ladies stymie one another. The 2020 Mrs. Van Hopper, the narrator’s employer in France — a cackling Ann Dowd — actively tries to thwart her worker’s budding romance, the place the Mrs. Van Hopper of the Hitchcock movie is clueless. Mrs. Danvers, whose machinations within the novel goal the narrator straight, does one higher within the movie, as a substitute tricking different ladies into doing her soiled work. Feminine servants revel within the narrator’s stumbles up society’s ladder. The shortage of sources is a monetary one, however the playing cards are dealt based mostly on gender. It is a zero-sum recreation.
So who’s the dangerous man right here? Hitchcock’s adaptation of Rebecca famously altered the ending in compliance with the ethical pointers of Hollywood’s Hays code, making any try to establish the story’s villain much more precarious. However Wheatley’s adaptation crowns a villain worthy of the antihero period in its remaining body.
With out spoiling something, let’s simply say the palpable aid on the narrator’s face within the Netflix adaptation, upon the revelation of the circumstances of Rebecca’s demise, is essentially the most chilling a part of the movie. With this third-act twist, she sheds the cloak of the naïf like a butterfly rising furiously from its chrysalis. Schadenfreude personified — monsterified.
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