“Rebecca” Review: Is This Genre-Bending Film Netflix’s Latest Flop or a New Classic?

by Kathryn McDonald

For Hitchcock fans around the world, the prospect of remaking his film “Rebecca” induces either terror or excitement: terror at the idea of a masterpiece becoming defaced or excitement that a new director might recapture the original spirit of the classic psychological thriller. 

In directing Netflix’s adaptation of the film, Ben Wheatly attempts to recreate the suspenseful drama of Hitchcock’s genre-bending movie. The storyline itself reeks of tension, and there is no doubt that a particular method is required to do justice to the original film. Nevertheless, those familiar with the original film will inevitably see the liberties that the new cast and screenwriters have taken in this new adaptation. 

“Rebecca” is the story of a clumsy but loveably innocent lady’s companion who falls in love with the mysterious widower Maxim de Winter. Shortly after, the two get married and return to England after a honeymoon across continental Europe. However, the new Mrs. de Winter soon begins to experience the inescapable presence of her husband’s late wife, Rebecca. 

Armie Hammer (“Call Me by Your Name”) and Lily James (“Baby Driver”) take the lead as the new Mr. and Mrs. de Winter. James certainly seems a perfect fit for the characteristically naïve but beautiful new bride of the secretive and temperamental Maxim de Winter, whom Hammer attempts to portray. While both actors do a fantastic job of drawing in viewers, there is something uncharacteristically cold about Hammer’s portrayal of de Winter which may leave some viewers wishing for a more natural delivery. 

Overall, their performances are believable and intriguing, with one catch: Hammer and James’ chemistry is severely lacking. Although the relationship between the onscreen couple is a whirlwind of tumultuous psychological games, the film fails to explain the initial passion of the couple. This results in an oddly bland and unnatural relationship between the characters, with their lack of chemistry becoming only more apparent as the movie progresses.

This isn’t to say that the film is devoid of compelling performances. One stand-out is Kristen Scott Thomas’ (“Four Weddings and a Funeral”) magnificent portrayal of Mrs. Danvers, the de Winters’ superficially charming but subtly sinister housekeeper. Mrs. Danvers shrewdly seduces her way into the confidence of the new wife and, along the way, leaves the audience with a truly haunting performance. 

On the whole, Ben Wheatly and the rest of the crew have crafted a high-quality viewing experience. The sets, camera angles, lighting, music, and costumes work together to enhance the intensity and mania of the film. 

However, the film also proves that classics are best left alone, as Wheatly mistakenly chooses to change the ending of the iconic story. What may originally be perceived as a representation of Mrs. de Winter’s psychological turmoil turns out to be poor directorial focus. This retelling of “Rebecca” is much more a tired romance than a gripping thriller, and the ending only solidified that for me. 

In summary, the unfortunate coupling of James and Hammer, along with the predictable romantic undertones, results in an unsatisfying story. Whether one is a Hitchcock enthusiast, thrill seeker, or romance lover, Netflix’s “Rebecca” will most likely leave them confused and unsure of what the director was intending. 

Kathryn McDonald is a sophomore Psychology major and an A&E writer for Cedars. When she’s not at her desk studying, you can probably catch her in the library writing a letter to a friend, reading her favorite American poetry, or drinking coffee from her favorite mug.

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