[Screen It]


(2020) (Lily James, Armie Hammer) (PG-13)

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Drama: A young woman travels to her new husband's estate where she learns his late wife's spirit still affects everything and everyone there.

It's the mid-1930s and the never-named Narrator (LILY JAMES) is a young woman who works for Mrs. Van Hopper (ANN DOWD), a rich American woman who wants to maintain her social status by associating with other rich and famous people. While in Monte Carlo, she's set her sights on recent widower Maxim de Winter (ARMIE HAMMER) who politely wants nothing to do with her, but is instantly smitten with the Narrator. Soon, he's whisking her off for adventurous day trips during which romance blossoms between the two.

When Van Hopper announces they're returning to America, the Narrator alerts Maxim to this and he decides on the spot to marry her and return her to his lavish estate in Cornwall, known as Manderley. Everyone there -- including house manager Mrs. Danvers (KRISTIN SCOTT THOMAS) and estate manager Frank Crawley (TOM GOODMAN-HILL) -- is surprised by this turn of events, what with his previous wife, Rebecca, having been the love of his life and the Narrator not coming from a prestigious family.

While the young bride makes some allies among the staff such as her maid, Clarice (BRYONY MILLER), she can't help but note the looks she gets from nearly everyone else, especially Mrs. Danvers who admits to her past close relationship with Rebecca. When that woman's first cousin, Jack Favell (SAM RILEY), shows up, things become more complicated, what with him being banned from the estate but saying a nebulous note to him from the previous Mrs. de Winter has left him searching for an answer since her death.

All of which leads the Narrator to continue her own searching for the truth about her predecessor and everyone's reaction to her showing up to take that woman's place.

OUR TAKE: 5 out of 10

When it comes to ghosts, hauntings, and such, I'm still on the fence about whether they're real or not. I've had enough weird things happen over my many laps around the sun that I can't explain any other way, and from a creative standpoint, it's a fun storytelling device designed to spook audiences.

On the other hand, the logical side of me views such supernatural phenomena as unlikely to exist, especially when there's zero verified proof (notwithstanding untrained first or second-hand accounts or TV "reality" shows centered around ghost and paranormal activity hunters).

That said, there's no denying that the dearly (and sometimes not so dearly) departed still haunt people and places. For some, the mean-spiritedness of some people seems to linger on after they're gone, especially in the minds of survivors who had to live through it, almost as if that bad or even evil vibe has permanently permeated a place.

For others, the loss, longing for, and memories of loved ones likewise haunt the minds and feelings of those left behind to the point that they and any potential newcomers to the scene can't escape such emotional possession.

Dame Daphne du Maurier tapped into all of that in her 1938 gothic novel "Rebecca" and Alfred Hitchcock then did the same two years later in his cinematic adaptation of the same name that went on to earn eleven Oscar nominations (and win two for Best Picture and Best Cinematography).

In full disclosure, I haven't read the novel or seen Hitch's film, so I can't comment on how they handled the material or how they compare to the latest movie adaptation, also arriving with the same title.

In it, Lily James plays a never formally named young woman who's working as the assistant to a rich American (Ann Dowd) who's traveling through Europe trying to maintain her image by hanging out with the well-to-do. Mrs. Van Hopper's latest such target is rich widower Maxim de Winter (Armie Hammer) and she orders our introductory narrator to arrange for the two to be seated close to each other for a meal.

But it's the young woman who impresses the renewed bachelor and it's not long before he's gallivanting around with her and eventually taking her back to his manor known as Manderley where a fairly large staff of managers and servants are ready to satisfy his every need and desire, but aren't sure what to make of his new bride and her lack of any sort of pedigree.

She quickly learns that her groom's late wife Rebecca still haunts the place. Not as an actual ghost, mind you, but as a lingering spirit where Maxim can't bring himself to talk about her and his house manager, Mrs. Danvers (Kristin Scott Thomas), can't help but constantly give the newcomer the ol' stink-eye.

In fact, everyone stares at the young woman in such uncomfortable ways that you begin to wonder if perhaps this is going to turn into a true horror flick or at least be a continuation of the surreal dream our narrator was having at the beginning of this two-hour offering.

While absolutely gorgeous to behold -- beyond the attractive qualities of the leads, cinematographer Laurie Rose's visual compositions and shots are often stunning -- something feels slightly off -- including the performances -- from start to finish in this film written by Jane Goldman, Joe Shrapnel, and Anna Waterhouse and directed by Ben Wheatley. I at first attributed that to the very surreal quality I just mentioned and the likely desire of wanting to keep viewers somewhat off-balance regarding what's really happening.

Everything is eventually revealed and explained in the third act but all of that feels rushed, possibly truncated, and somewhat at odds tonally with what's preceded it. It's not enough to ruin the pic, but it's likely to come off as a let-down for many a viewer who's been trying to figure out where things are headed.

In the end, I view this film somewhat like how I feel about ghosts, meaning right down the middle. I'd like to believe it could haunt you for days, weeks, months, or longer, but the lack of evidence supporting that means it's not that likely. Pretty, but not as psychologically compelling as it might have been, "Rebecca" rates as a 5 out of 10.

Reviewed October 19, 2020 / Posted October 23, 2020

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