Netflix’s ‘Rebecca’ is Lavish But Frustrating Fluff

Published on October 21, 2020

Ben Wheatley’s new adaptation of Daphne du Maurier’s “Rebecca” doesn’t bring a whole lot new or exciting to the table. Wheatley’s vision of the gothic love story has little modern flare beyond aesthetics. It’s a well-crafted gothic love story and fine, pass-the-time entertainment on Netflix, but it’s also a routine adaptation.

The classic story about a newly married couple in a home haunted by the past remains the same in Wheatly’s version. All of the broad strokes are unchanged. A young woman (Lily James) meets a mystery man in Monte Carlo by the name of Maxim de Winter (Armie Hammer), who’s haunted by the death of his wife, Rebecca. The two fall madly in love. When de Winter takes his new bride home, trouble begins. Mrs. de Winter is reminded of her husband’s lost wife, who died in a boating accident, everywhere she goes. She can’t escape her ghost, and neither can her husband. The house is Rebecca’s ghost. 

Given his background in horror, Wheatley does a fine job with the gothic horror elements. Those scenes could’ve used more intensity, but visually, they’re eye candy. Wheatley, surprisingly, makes his most commercial and accessible movie yet with Rebecca. It’s an easy movie to watch, which is probably a problem considering the story’s troubling drama. Wheatley never gets too intense or frightening. This Rebecca is more of a softball than a fastball. It’s tame, especially for the director of Kill List and High-Rise.

Wheatley shows range, though, in his skills of making a commercial movie. That’s what Rebecca mostly plays as: not as full-on gothic horror, but a new commercial movie on Netflix. The craft is impressive and splendid, but weirdly, it’s an unextraordinary movie despite its extraordinary story. 

Rebecca is an odd watch. It’s entertaining enough, but even when it’s engaging, it’s frustrating with its lack of newness and strong emotions. It’s, again, too reserved and routine. There’s nothing new about Rebecca, despite it’s the year 2020 and we already have a near-perfect version of this story from Alfred Hitchcock.

Wheatley has made some unforgettable visceral experiences, but here, the experience is a little too passive at times. The emotion isn’t always there, either, especially in the leads. Like the movie they’re starring in, Hammer and James are perfectly watchable, but the emotion isn’t there. The mystery isn’t there, either, especially in Hammer’s performance. He’s a charismatic actor in supporting roles, but he’s not a star that makes you want to lean in and watch closely. Mr. de Winter is an alluring mystery, but in Wheatley’s vision, he remains on the surface. Hammer and James, like Wheatley, deliver what’s expected. It’s good, but it’s not Rebecca good. Sam Riley and Kristin Scott Thomas, on the other hand, light up their scenes. 

Rebecca probably would’ve been a more immersive experience on the big screen. At home and on Netflix, however, everything that’s lacking is harder to ignore. Rebecca could’ve and should’ve been a great movie, but it’s just another fine movie on Netflix. There’s such immense talent behind this adaptation that it’s disappointing Wheatley’s film doesn’t go above and beyond. It’s visually beautiful and boasts strong production value, but It’s too reserved, too faithful, and too passive. Rebecca will entertain people, especially those unfamiliar with the story, but it’s a shame it plays as more of a Netflix film than a Ben Wheatley film. 

Rebecca is now available to stream on Netflix. 

Jack Giroux is a Staff Writer at Grit Daily. Based in Los Angeles, he is an entertainment journalist who's previously written for Thrillist, Slash Film, Film School Rejects, and The Film Stage.

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