Thursday, October 22, 2020

On The Chopping Block: Rebecca (2020)

My history with Rebecca is a brief one: I've heard the name of Daphne Du Maurier's novel turned Alfred Hitchcock Best Pictures Oscar winner film adaptation several times, and knew the basics of the story: That it was a love story turned nightmare and that one of the villains was the housekeeper Mrs. Danvers, who was memorable enough to have a Creepshow character named after her. I didn't actually do a proper dive into Rebecca until this month, when I watched Hitchcock's adaptation a few days into October. I instantly loved it: The exquisite effects, the (mostly) suspenseful script and directing, Joan Fontaine and Judith Anderson's wonderful performances. With this in mind, I was open to seeing what Ben Wheatley's new adaptation of Rebecca would entail, especially since it looked as if he was trying to go in a different direction than Hitchcock and the cast included actors I liked, including Armie Hammer from Wheatley's previous film Free Fire and Ann Dowd from Hereditary

After having seen the new adaptation of Rebecca, I can safely say that this new adaptation is certainly a mixed bag. Let's get the bad out of the way first: There are a couple of aspects I felt were hindering Wheatley's new film from succeeding completely: The first being the alterations to the story itself. While I'm never opposed to remakes trying to go in different directions, the different directions in this iteration of Rebecca do not feel beneficial in the way, as one example, the alterations to Leigh Whannell's Invisible Man remake felt. Part of the alterations include the addition of vivid dream sequences in which the second Mrs. De Winter's anxiety is expressed in imagery such as her new husband sleepwalking to the west wing and the second Mrs. De Winter being swallowed by vines that consume her, which...ultimately amount to nothing. And, on top of it, the digital effects used do not look as good as the crew probably intended, so it sticks out more than it would've otherwise. And then there's the ending, which does not finish out the film with the fire at Manderley, but rather tacks on several minutes worth of unnecessary scenes to wrap the film up in a bow it does not need.

The other hinderance to the film is, sad as it is to say, the cast: Simply put, a lot of the cast either does not work as these characters or do not get the chance to shine. The aforementioned Armie Hammer does a fine enough job as Maxim, but can't manage to make his character likable enough for the audience to want to see the second Mrs. De Winter stick with him. Lily James, who I had only seen in Baby Driver prior to this, is decent, but lacks the charm and resilience I felt Joan Fontaine brought to the character in Hitchcock's adaptation. Kristin Scott Thomas is probably the closest to a standout as Mrs. Danvers and does a good job, but I don't feel the film (or rather the screenplay) affords her the same opportunities to truly shine that Judith Anderson got in her turn in the role. That's no fault of Thomas, though, as it doesn't feel to me like any actor really gets to properly shine in this version.

Kristin Scott Thomas & Lily James as Mrs. Danvers and the second Mrs. De Winter

However, despite the faults of the film, there's still sights to behold in Rebecca. Literally, as the main appeal of the film in my opinion is its production values. In addition to the set design of Manderley itself being fantastic (I wish I had some proper photos to expound on this, but alas), another visual aspect that also stands out is the film's use of color: The film begins as its source material does, with Manderley on fire, and then cuts to the second Mrs. De Winter at the chronological beginning of the story. From there on out, the film associates the character with warm colors, especially yellow and red, and it creates a truly gorgeous color palette for the scenes following her in Monte Carlo as she juggles her work for Mrs. Van Hopper with her burgeoning romance with Maxim. It's a delight to watch these scenes, especially as they set the stage for what's to come when the De Winters arrives at Manderley. Throughout most of the Manderley scenes, lots of dark and dreary colors are used to convey the influence the departed Rebecca has left in her absence, as well as having an association with the power Mrs. Danvers has over the home. Several scenes feature warm and bleak colors clashing, illustrating the struggle for control between the two Mrs. De Winters in a way that makes you wish the rest of the film was on par with its stylized visage.

In the end, while this version of Rebecca may lack the substance of its source material and predecessor adaptation, it's still worth a watch for its stunning style alone.

The De Winters in happier times.

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