Shauna Fox sees ghosts through Blind Windows.
I had never seen Hitchcock’s original of Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca, nor have I read the book, but I was very much looking forward to watching Netflix’s remake of the classic; the trailer made it look so sophisticated, captivating, haunting. And yet… it was anything but.
At just over two hours in length Rebecca would have felt less drawn out if it had been cut by a half hour. The first 30-40 minutes of the film establishes the relationship between a lady’s companion (Lily James), and Maxim de Winter (Armie Hammer). This opening sets the movie to be almost like a romantic drama rather than a horror or thriller, but I assumed, like many horrors, it was luring us into a false sense of security.
The middle sequence of the film, or the main ‘plot’, shows the new Mrs. de Winter attempting to settle into her husband’s mansion home, Manderley, and finding it difficult to assert herself as lady of the house, and a wife, given that she is haunted constantly by the memory of de Winter’s first wife Rebecca, who, it is believed, drowned.
Mrs. de Winter is told she will never measure up to Rebecca, in beauty, social status, sexually, in all things Rebecca is superior; the housekeeper Mrs. Danvers (Kristen Scott Thomas) takes a cold joy in making life miserable for the ‘intruder’.
This middle section makes attempts at horror with the cinematography and dark lighting, and the threatening motif of the water, but it fails utterly, instead the spectral presence of Rebecca throughout is weak, the story is slow, the two main characters are dull and the chemistry between James and Hammer is lacking in any believability.
However, it is the last 30-40 minutes that is the film’s saving grace, the pace picks up with the finding of Rebecca’s body, over a year after her death, and a murder trial commences, the prime suspect… the husband of course. All of a sudden the characters come to life, their one-dimensionality is shirked for a little more roundedness, and the slow canter of the film’s story becomes more dramatic and tense. This latter part of the film, along with Kristen Scott Thomas’ portrayal of the vindictive Mrs. Danvers are the only stand out parts of Netflix’s pitiful remake.
While the cinematography is sumptuous, and the settings are beautiful, a film is more than its aesthetics, and Rebecca was lacking in substance and intrigue for the majority; and then of course there was the ending, which did not gel seamlessly with the tone of the rest of the film. An attempt at a happy-ever-after destroyed, in just two minutes, the whole point of Rebecca, and brought it right back to the genre of romantic drama.
Something, however, that did spark my interest is the use of the name for the two leading women, which I assume, although never having read it I can’t be sure, is the same in the book. Lily James’ character is never referred to by name at all, it is only after she is married to Maxim that she is called Mrs. de Winter. This automatically relegates her, the leading female, to nothing more than a wife, she has no identity outside of her husband’s name. Rebecca, however, although never once seen or heard, and is just a memory, has a name, an identity, once again establishing her as the superior. It is a clever idea to make the dead a more powerful and central character than the ones actually viewed on screen, it is just such a pity this remake never grasped the horror and threat that Rebecca holds over the people she left behind.
PG-13 2h 3m