Rebecca (2020) Review: A pointless, bland retread
Back in my first film class I took in high school, we did a whole section on the films by Alfred Hitchcock and while Strangers on a Train became a film that I really loved, there was one that didn’t hit for me – Rebecca. Personally, compared to the other Hitchcock films I saw, the story didn’t resonate with me, the thrills were lifeless making the film boring, and the plot was just way too convoluted. However, I’m actually in the minority with Rebecca as it’s actually seen as one of Hitchcock’s bests and actually won the Oscar for Best Picture and Cinematography (Black and White) back in 1940. Although it really wasn’t for me then, a lot of time has passed and it’s certainly a film that impacted me enough to still think about from time to time – especially since Netflix announced a remake of it was coming.
Directed by Ben Wheatley, who actually helmed a film I’m quite fond of called Free Fire, this remake gave me hope that maybe it could re-introduce the story to me in different light and it kind of did. The story, originally based on the novel of the same name by Daphne du Maurier, follows a young woman (Lily James) working as a lady’s companion at a lavish European hotel as she becomes enveloped in a whirlwind romance with a mysterious widower named Maxim de Winter (Armie Hammer). After marrying Maxim, the new Mrs. de Winter travels with him his family estate filled with plenty of butlers and maids that are led by the estate’s housekeeper Mrs. Danvers (Kristin Scott Thomas). However, upon arriving, she notices that everyone can’t stop talking about Maxim’s deceased wife Rebecca and that Mrs. Danvers shares a deep fondness for Rebecca that makes her silently hate her as Maxim’s new wife. As the new Mrs. de Winter discovers that Maxim has deep-seeded secrets about his relationship with Rebecca, she discovers that Rebecca holds a tight grip on their present that could have grim consequences.
While being re-introduced to the story of Rebecca, the way that the story builds up its titular character’s presence and impact is very intriguing. It genuinely feels like the new Mrs. de Winters just can’t escape Rebecca’s shadow as Mrs. Danvers, and really everyone, compares her to her and says how things were great before she came. Everywhere she turns and every time she tries to understand Maxim’s relationship with Rebecca, she’s forced back in her shadow and is trapped in a past she wants to move out of. It also causes a lot of spite and tension within her relationship with Mrs. Danvers because of how obsessed she is with Rebecca. Hell, even the idea of the new Mrs. de Winter not having a real name speaks to how inferior she is to Rebecca and it’s great that this remake has made me find new appreciation for the material. Truthfully though, it doesn’t deserve that much credit since I probably could’ve watched Hitchcock’s version again to get the same effect – mostly because this film is just a lesser version of that.
Wheatley’s adaptation is just a carbon copy that hits on all the same beats of the original story and doesn’t try to raise the bar in the slightest. Outside of a few deviations that just end up leading to the same conclusions, the film just goes through all the same motions and still contains the story beats that always felt underwhelming to me. This adaptation is almost a major reminder for me of why the film didn’t connect to me and even why I found it to be one of the more boring Hitchcock films. The great building of Rebecca’s presence always feels like it’s building to something more grand or impactful, but it stays so personally tied to Maxim and the film then turns into an okay blackmail thriller that it just leaves me disappointed. With the film not diverting from the past or making any sort of changes, it’s basically like a mediocre trip down memory lane. Honestly, even if you loved the original, this remake would probably come off uninspired and boring because of how much it just tries to hit the same marks.
Even the performances come off very weak because they’re just trying to match the original so hard and even when some things divert it’s not enough. James and Hammer have solid romantic chemistry, but their performances eventually become bland with how familiar they come off and the temper that Maxim is generally noted for is barely noticeable for most of the film. Thomas’ performance as Danvers is also fine, but certainly isn’t as memorable or manipulative to keep you entranced by her social control of situations. Honestly, all the performances feel lifeless because it feels like no one is allowed to add any nuances or modernizations to their performances or the characters. The only thing this remake brings that’s really different from Hitchcock’s is color. With the original being in black and white, it is interesting to see all the lavish colors work within this story – especially with the dress that Mrs. de Winter wears that reminds Maxim of Rebecca. However, it ends up working against the film as it just gives the film the same kind of lavish look that we’ve seen in other films and ultimately makes the film not as creepy. The shadowy nature of the original’s cinematography and creepy look to the environment feels totally lost in this film and it just adds to the bland experience of watching it.
Wheatley’s adaptation of Rebecca is the definition of a pointless remake that is just a carbon-copy of the original. While re-experiencing the story has made me find some new appreciation for it that I originally didn’t find with Hitchcock’s version, it’s also a bland reminder of what I didn’t find appreciation for and is just a boring retread that most likely won’t enjoy.