Pretty Vacant

Review: Rebecca is an uninspired case of diminishing returns

Review: Rebecca is an uninspired case of diminishing returns Movie Review


Grade C+

Luke Whiston

26th October 2020

Here are a couple of film facts you can use to impress your TikTok audience: Die Hard is a Christmas movie, and John Carpenter's The Thing is a remake. Wait, one of the most awesome movies ever is a copy of another film? Well no, not exactly: Carpenter took an old story and improved it, adding his own ideas and explosions, and generally raising everything up a notch. Okay, so what's your point? That it is possible to create legitimate new art from old art. Oh right, is it worth obsessing over? Not really. Are you going to anyway? Yes, after this dab.

There's nothing wrong with remakes. Some stories are ripe to be re-told through the lenses of ever-changing times, and the subject of this remake is over 80 years old, meaning anyone who saw it at a picture house is almost certainly dead. But we get into a grey area with films that stick to the period and do nothing more than update the methods in line with current production standards. Are we bound by some movie law to do this every few decades to give the classics a spruce? Or are some films so revered to remake them is tantamount to religious sin and as such require our utmost scrutiny?

Acclaimed British director Ben Wheatley's new film, Rebecca, is a remake of the 1940 thriller of the same name. You may have heard of it; it was adapted by Alfred Hitchcock from a best-selling novel by Daphne du Maurier, and was nominated for eleven Oscars - winning two of them, including the coveted Best Picture. The plot revolves around an unnamed young woman who falls for a dapper widower, Maxim de Winter, and is whisked away to live a life of luxury on his estate, where her existence is dominated at every turn by the looming presence of his beautiful deceased society wife.

*Borat voice* Mah wife

The story has elements of forbidden romance and psychological terror, making it a natural fit for Wheatley, who has built his career on rooted, class-conscious dramas that try to get under your skin - often utilising horror or the ridiculous to do so. So with such a good marriage of material and creative parties, and the knowing heavy expectation placed upon everyone involved for embarking on such a project, why does it feel like this adaptation is coasting along? Unless the intention was to produce a paint-by-numbers reproduction to respect the original? It's weird. Let's obsess.

In this version the wealthy de Winter is played by Armie Hammer, and his bride aka the second Mrs de Winter by Lily James. Kristin Scott Thomas also features as the manipulative housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers. Both leads are fine, being suitably tall or timid when required, with teeth you could eat off - although neither deliver the kind of overwrought performance you might expect. This straight-laced take on the characters provides a microcosm of the problem with the film: for all the artistic licence up for grabs there's little flair on display - as if the makers are trying to avoid the hassle of comparisons to the original film by underselling everything.

My prediction that Danvers would be revealed as an android proved incorrect

Consequently any drama falls flat, leaving us with nice costumes and interior decor to look at, but nothing to sink our teeth into that might set this instance apart from Hitchcock's. In the fairness of anti-snobbery there's no reason you should have to watch an older version of a film to "get" an update - that way gatekeeperism lies - but what is any adaptation of Rebecca without being aware of the prestige of the original? Would it have improved matters if this film had deviated significantly from either the earlier versions or the book? Maybe, if we're going to do some speculative wish fulfillment, but then that also carries a certain amount of creative risk.

I'm finding Rebecca difficult to reconcile with. To confound matters further, at time of writing news broke of Wheatley's involvement in a sequel to The Meg - you know, the one about a giant shark starring Jason Statham. Future film historians are going to wrap themselves in knots trying to figure out that career trajectory. But work is work. Wheatley remains one of the most exciting directors to come out of England in recent years, and his talent for running a finger across the grimy surface of our society has resulted in films that will be remembered as era-defining when looking back upon this period.

It's just unfortunate that this version of Rebecca offers nothing of distinction, and will forever be - ironically - overshadowed by the one that came before it.

Follow us on Twitter @The_Shiznit for more fun features, film reviews and occasional commentary on what the best type of crisps are.
We are using Patreon to cover our hosting fees. So please consider chucking a few digital pennies our way by clicking on this link. Thanks!

Share This