The new Netflix produced “Rebbeca” is a film haunted by the very present ghost of Alfred Hitchcock’s 1940 Oscar-winning namesake, also adapted from Daphne du Maurier’s 1938 gothic novel.
Armie Hammer, who is carving out an interesting career for himself and who can be great, is much too wooden in his portrayal of the dashing and wealthy heir Maxim de Winter.
Maxim cannot overcome nor recover from the sudden death of his wife, Rebecca.
An uber-stiff Lily James plays the unnamed narrator who is swept off her feet by Maxim. The two start a week-long romance that ends with a marriage proposal and away they go to his home estate of Manderley, a beautiful English manor where devoted housekeeper Mrs. Danvers (Kristin Scott Thomas, playing the role as one-note as an actor can accomplish) holds sway.
The legacy of Rebecca flows through the house almost immediately haunting the blushing bride but Maxim will not speak about his deceased wife and becomes angry when pushed to do so. Yet evidence soon appears that her death may not have been an accident. The mystery begins. This is where the film should kick in for both the screenplay and the actors.
Sadly, the performances from Hammer and James are as inert as the film is flaccid and add nothing to the piece. James has only two emotions : on the verge of tears or all wrinkled as she sifts through the mystery of Rebecca’s final days.
Armie Hammer, an actor I genuinely like, is so bland that he almost fades into the wallpaper, even when sporting his mustard-yellow suit.
The great Ann Dowd’s small role is embarrassingly performed, as the usually reliable actress goes into full scenery-chewing mode.
Make no mistake, this is a handsomely-mounted film. Production Designer Sarah Greenwood does fantastic work on the inner and outer working of the Manderley estate. It is a grand and beautiful example of British aristocratic design that, for the new Mrs. de Winter, quickly becomes a house of labyrinthine mystery and near constant reminders of how she will never measure up to Rebecca.
Laurie Rose’s cinematography should be commended, as well. Her shadowy work inside the house plays in stark contrast to the sunny world in which the two lovers met and spent that glorious week falling in love, giving visual balance to the themes flowing through the story.
However, with all the visual splendor and a moody (yet sometimes out of place) score from Cliff Mansell, director Wheatley and screenwriters Anna Waterhouse, Joe Shrapnel, and Jane Goldman have drained the life out of the material.
Wheatley’s direction is featureless while the small changes made to the source novel and the way they are presented make the film shallow.
I dislike giving harsh reviews. It is truly no fun, but it is also no fun to sit through an already unnecessary film only to have my low expectations reach even lower realities by the film’s finale.
There is (and has been for an exceptionally long time) remake fever that has bubbled inside Hollywood for decades. Over the past fifteen or so years, it has exploded into a full-blown fire where any lazy studio can cash in on the name recognition of a past success.
And yes, one can argue that the film is another adaptation of the source novel rather than a remake but, while the film wisely steers clear of aping Hitchcock’s style, it certainly tries too hard to mimic Hitchcock’s tone, all in the guise of staying close to the source material.
Even if this were merely an attempt to do a separate adaptation of du Maurier’s novel, too bad and too late, Mr. Wheatley. Hitchcock got there first and achieved an icon of tone and high drama. It is simply impossible to get out from under the shadow of Alfred Hitchcock’s mastery. Just ask Gus Van Sant.
When it comes to whether or not you should remake classic films (or redo a novel that has already been adapted so effectively) to kowtow to a modern audience, the answer is: don’t.