British filmmaker and screenwriter Ben Wheatley has made a name for himself by directing stylish and slick action-thrillers that often feel as if they were made exclusively to screen for the “Midnight Madness” selection at film festivals, with the camp and excessive gore that films of that nature usually entail. While his films haven’t necessarily garnered mainstream attention, he has become a prolific modern filmmaker in his own right, as he fills a niche within the industry that has attracted a relatively large cult-following. High-Rise, Kill List, Free Fire and the infamous shock-horror anthology film The ABCs of Death are notable titles that each have gained some degree of cult status.
Wheatley’s latest film Rebecca represents a slight stylistic shift within his career in an effort to break out of the artistic confines that he had found himself stuck in. The film is a romantic thriller based on Daphne Du Maurier’s 1938 classic novel of the same name and features a fairly high profile cast. The film stars James as Mrs. de Winter, a working class woman who falls in love with a widowed man from wealthy lineage named Maxim (Hammer). After tying the knot within a matter of months, the newlyweds move into a family estate, where the woman begins to feel the presence of her husband’s late wife Rebecca.
With Rebecca, Wheatley attempts to evoke classic cinema, namely the films of Alfred Hitchcock. The European-period setting and the dark undertones that are felt within the very first few frames of the film suggest that he has evolved as a filmmaker and is heading in a more mature and widely accessible direction. However, despite laying the groundwork for a tense and mysterious psychological thriller that had the potential to be an engaging crowd-pleaser, Wheatley is unable to stick the landing. That’s not to say the back half of the film is necessarily a huge drop off in quality, but the mystery is unveiled and the answers are provided to the audience before the third act, which derails the momentum that the film had up until that point.
That being said, Rebecca has enough going for it that makes it worth checking out, regardless of the disappointing pacing. For starters, the cinematography is absolutely stunning with sweeping landscape shots of Europe and the land surrounding the towering estate that the majority of the film takes place in. The costumes are also very lavish and perfectly fit the period. While Hammer’s performance as Maxim de Winter isn’t necessarily that impressive, especially knowing what he is capable of, his co-star Lilly James delivers one of her best performances to date as Mrs. de Winter. The two may not have much chemistry, but James is able to rise above that and deliver a confident and engaging performance that almost seems like its ripped out of a Hitchcock film.
Despite its flaws, Rebecca is a generally engaging and technically well made thriller that is worth checking out for fans of the genre.
still courtesy of Netflix
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