Review: 'Rebecca' is flawed but lavish psychological thriller
Courtesy of Netflix
The spirit of Alfred Hitchcock looms over Ben Wheatley’s Netflix adaptation of “Rebecca,” a lavish, if undercooked, drama about the traumas of our past and how we deal with them. Far from perfect, “Rebecca” tries to blend the sensibilities of the novel and the 1940 movie to deliver a film contemporary audiences will appreciate. Living in the shadow of the master of suspense isn’t easy, but Wheatley works overtime to amplify what made the original terrifying, except the more he tries to explain who Rebecca de Winter was and manipulating the story around that aurora, some of the gaffes become overbearing.
Still, the production and costume design glisten in the background when we meet a young woman (Lily James) spending the summer in Monte Carlo, working as a traveling companion for the persnickety Mrs. Van Hopper (Ann Dowd). Eventually crossing paths with the suave Maxim de Winter (Armie Hammer) one fruitful morning, the two strike up a passionate love affair which leads to the lowly working girl suddenly becoming the new Mrs. Winter, and the overseer of the huge Mandalay estate on the English coast.
Once there, it becomes overwhelming for the new Mrs. Winter, especially as Maxim is elusive about his past relationship and keeps hearing the name Rebecca show up in conversation. Who is she? Why did everyone love her? And why does Maxim keep a secluded room with all her belongings? At least there’s Mrs. Danvers (Kristin Scott Thomas), the shady housekeeper who, if this were a game of “Clue,” would be the prime suspect.
We’ve been down this road before, and the secrets of Rebecca’s past come to light as more posh characters come forward to reveal them, but the young women’s journey to find her identity is engaging enough to see past the patches of dialogue that detour into soap opera territory. James, to her credit, holds the majority of “Rebecca” together, having to contend with the legacy of someone who is dead, while also proving she’s worthy enough for Maxim. By digging into this juicy subtext, Wheatley taps into the young women’s fear of loneliness and weaves everything into one glossy package.
Unfortunately, once the film peels back the layers of who Rebecca was and what she continues to be, the film starts to lose thunder. Part of what makes “Rebecca” compelling is the ambiguity that surrounds the character and when audiences, who might find it hard to sit through a lengthy adult-driven drama or have seen the Hitchcock classic, figure out the rub, they won’t care. That the film manages to work despite those flaws speaks of the overall presentation and the eerie sense of dread that oozes into each frame.
Trying to uncover something new of a dated property would be daunting for any filmmaker though Wheatley never plays by the status quo and is nothing if not known for his bold interpretations. “Rebecca” doesn’t rewrite the book on period pieces or psychological thrillers but is a luscious escape with fine performances that captures the allure of uncertainty and the consequences of solitude.
REBECCA will debut globally on Netflix Wednesday October 21st