Armie Hammer and Lily James in the 2020 Netflix adaptation of Daphne du Mauriers Rebecca directed by Ben Wheatley
I went back to Manderley last night, but it wasn't a dream. Netflix revived thatby Daphne du Mauriers Rebecca from the ashes .
Rebecca – whether it's the 1938 novel, the 1940 Oscar-winning Alfred Hitchcock adaptation, or this 2020 new version directed by Ben Wheatley – is a bit of a Rorschach test. Its genre is slippery: romance? Horror? Grow up?
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Even identifying a bad guy is a deceptively elusive endeavor. Perhaps it is the creepy housekeeper Mrs. Danvers (played here by a shadow-throwing Kristin Scott Thomas) who makes the married life of the nameless protagonist hell. Or maybe it's the mercury Maxim de Winter, a role that seems to be written for Armie Hammer despite being nearly 50 years before he was born, as perhaps a killer who is as inaccessible to his second wife as it is to the audience. It could even be Rebecca of the same name, Maxim & # 39; s dead woman, whose spirit has a serious “not like other girls” vibe.
Or maybe Lily James' nameless narrator and protagonist, known only as "Winter's second wife," is not as virtuous as she seems.
The story is less of a unit than a person to put down roots for (and how bad should we feel about our choice?), And Wheatley's new adaptation further complicates the viewer's moral acrobatics. Rebecca's horrors are more disturbing than really frightening. They're cerebral rather than visceral, which makes them a perfect addition to any roundup of scary, but not-too-scary Halloween movies.
Rebecca, streamed on Netflix on October 21, is in good company within the New House, New Problems (The Amityville Horror, The Shining, Paranormal Activity) tradition of horror, or with the 2019 Ready or Not marriage bait what looks happy at first is actually the beginning of an unpleasant surprise. In Rebecca's case, the real horror is that marriage is being sold to women as an endeavor when in fact it is more of a necessary evil, and the story unfolds with the sinister implications of the narrator's irrevocable choices.
The love affair begins with a reference to this paternalism when the delightfully unaffected narrator is turned away from a chic restaurant terrace on the sun-drenched shores of southern France. Maxim gallantly comes to her rescue (with a touch of Hammer's signature Winklevii) by inviting her to share his table. He finds her cheerfulness charming when she copies a lunch order she had heard from the other wealthy guests of the hotel and requests "des huîtres, une douzaine" – a dozen oysters – for breakfast.
Maxim seduces the narrator – and the audience – with some very sexy, very sandy premarital beach games, but the film soon darkens when James' narrator marries and then follows their increasingly dingy new husband to his sprawling English estate. Gloomy Manderley dampens her newlywed bliss: the unrefined narrator commits several faux pas, while the newly installed mistress of the house, Maxim & # 39; s honeymoon lightheartedness evaporates and Mrs. Danvers makes it clear that the second Mrs. de Winter is only her beloved Rebecca will take second place, the memory of which permeates every nook and cranny and every mysteriously closed room in the castle.
"I don't believe in ghosts," claims the narrator before arriving in Manderley. But she soon discovers that the house is haunted: by unresolved grief or something darker. The narrator's hairbrush still has strands of Rebecca's dark hair between the bristles. In her raincoat pocket is a handkerchief smeared with lipstick and embroidered with a bow-shaped R monogram. Her name is not her own either: while many brides struggle to get used to the nickname woman, de Winter's second wife has to bear the same name as her husband's lost love.
Like 2017 & # 39; s Get Out and 2019 & # 39; s Parasite, Rebecca serves up a spoonful of horror to bring social commentary to a standstill. And like any Gothic movie worth its cobwebs, Rebecca hints at the supernatural while remaining firmly rooted in the horrors of real life. The film's creepy elements, emerging from both the novel and the Hitchcock adaptation, become a Trojan horse to the terrifying reality of heterosexual marriage in the hyper-stratified world of early 20th century England.
There are eerie dream sequences, dodgy-eyed maids and a man in a courtroom claiming Murrrdah! Maxim has a sleepwalking habit, super creepy behavior with an extremely scientific explanation. There's even a carnival masquerade scene that makes the audience wonder for a moment if this is really a ghost story. But the most terrible thing in the film is a cruel reality check by Ms. Danvers: "He's going to leave you, he's going to get a divorce. And then what are you going to do? You can't marry again now," she mocked.
Wheatley's adaptation seeks to make the narrator's struggles more readable for a 21st century audience, and doubles the inevitable fear of scarcity – because there is only one Maxim de Winter, there can only be one Woman de Winter.
On almost every opportunity women obstruct each other. The 2020 Ms. Van Hopper, the narrator's employer in France – a cackling Ann Dowd – is actively trying to thwart her coworker's burgeoning romance in which Ms. Van Hopper from the Hitchcock film has no clue. Ms. Danvers, whose machinations are aimed directly at the narrator in the novel, does better in the film instead of getting other women to do their dirty work. Female servants revel in the narrator stumbling up the ladder of society. The shortage of resources is financial, but the cards are dealt by gender. It's a zero sum game.
So who is the bad guy here? Hitchcock's adaptation of Rebecca was known to alter the ending in line with the moral guidelines of Hollywood's Hays Code, making any attempt to identify the villain of the story even more precarious. But Wheatley's adaptation crowns a villain worthy of the antihero era in its final frame.
Without spoiling anything, we're simply saying that the palpable relief on the narrator's face in the Netflix adaptation after the revelation of the circumstances surrounding Rebecca's death is the most terrifying part of the film. With this twist in the third act, she throws off the cloak of the naive like a butterfly emerging angrily from its pupa. Schadenfreude personified – monsterized.
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