If given the chance to adapt one of the great gothic romance novels into a movie would you be interested? What if that film had already been made 80 years prior by one of the greatest filmmakers in history? These are questions Ben Wheatley (Highrise, Tomb Raider 2) must have asked himself. Rebecca, based on the novel of the same name by Dame Daphne du Maurier, is a gothic mystery debuting on Netflix just in time for Halloween. The first turn this novel got was at the hands of Alfred Hitchcock. No stranger to murder, mystery, and mayhem Hitchcock made this his first American film. Nominated for 11 Academy Awards and winning 2, the 1940 Rebecca is a tough act to follow.
The plot of Rebecca is nearly as famous and reused as Romeo and Juliet. A young woman is whisked away by a handsome widower to be his second wife and wipe away all his grief, little does she know that her task in replacing “Rebecca” is as daunting as this 2020 remake’s job in replacing the original. The Netflix adaptation follows the original story well enough, but I was struck by the bold choice to do away with the gothic part of this gothic romance. The film was bright and almost carefree in it’s approach (at least in the beginning). Wheatley alum Laurie Rose was the cinematographer and took a unique, if odd, path to shooting what you would expect to be a dark and foreboding story. Everything was well lit, bright, and colorful. The costume design by Julian Day (Rocketman), while impeccable, was also downright cheerful. I found myself fine with these choices. Brooding darkness can get a little overused in this type of film so it was interesting to see this fresh take. However without that atmosphere to help lull you into the story the filmmakers have to work twice as hard to bring that sense of impending doom and I do feel the mark was missed, just a little, but still missed. I rather enjoyed the story and the different take, I just didn’t get that Halloween feel I was hoping for.
Lily James (Cinderella, Baby Driver) was fantastic as a complex and conflicted Mrs. de Winter. I completely bought her during her transition from young woman’s companion to fledgling aristocrat to fully realized lady of the house. This is also the second film in which I enjoyed Armie Hammer’s performance, the first being the criminally underrated Man from Uncle. The rest of the cast put in decent performances, especially the always brilliant Kristin Scott Thomas. I feel there could have been more undercurrent from the rest of the cast, especially from Sam Riley as Jack Favell and Tom Goodman-Hill as Frank Crawley. These two roles could have easily been scene stealers if played more towards the darker side of things, but alas they were just acceptable and nothing more.
If you are looking for something to fill out your 31 Days of Halloween, this is a nice palate cleanser, but doesn’t really rate it’s own course. I did enjoy it, I just feel if you are going to remake something with this much history you had better bring your A game.