Netflix’s latest romantic mystery, Rebecca, falls flat during a month of exciting horror and true crime releases. Adapted from Daphne du Maurier’s novel, Rebecca follows the story of a young “mademoiselle” (Lily James) who falls in love with Maxim de Winter (Armie Hammer), an older and much wealthier gentleman.
Soon after meeting him, the young woman learns that Maxim’s first wife, Rebecca, has recently died. In little to no time, Maxim proposes to the young lady, and she moves in with him to his luxurious estate named Manderley, where she meets Mrs. Danvers (Kristin Scott Thomas), Rebecca’s housekeeper.
The premise is intriguing enough. Throughout the movie, the protagonist and viewers are haunted by Rebecca de Winter. Her presence still lingers throughout the house, ingrained in the lavish decor, leftover hair in a brush, and of course, Mrs. Danvers herself.
Another point of strength in Rebecca is the set design. The film uses striking sets, including pristine bedrooms, intricate wall decor, and opulent parlors. The costumes are beautiful, and the outfits often highlight the differences between Maxim’s young new bride and the people who inhabit the upper class world she has just entered. Her simple sweaters contrast with Maxim’s formal attire and his family’s ostentatious hats and dresses. This divide perseveres as Mrs. de Winter flounders through high society.
But it’s rather impossible to empathize with the newlyweds. Maxim’s new wife remains unnamed throughout the entire film and is thus only referred to as “Mrs. de Winter.” Maxim himself seems charismatic but often fails at managing his temper. A good portion of the movie actually focuses on the lack of real connection between the two characters, subsequently leading to a disconnect between the audience and the characters.
Because viewers cannot understand the reasons behind Maxim’s secrecy, the audience also has no motivation to try to sympathize with him. This also leads to an inability to support Mrs. de Winter and her love for Maxim. Though she is enamored with him, there’s no real substance or trust in their marriage.
Netflix describes Rebecca as “suspenseful” and “romantic,” but the film does not accomplish much in the latter genre. This is in part due to Maxim’s dissociation from Mrs. de Winter and the audience. If the film framed the plot in terms of challenges Maxim and Mrs. de Winter must face together, then it would make more sense as a romance. Instead, most of the film’s plot depicts Mrs. de Winter simply trying to figure out her husband and navigate his frivolous world of fancy costume balls, butlers, and horse rides.
Though Rebecca employs a cast of skillful actors, their performances are hindered by the film’s editing. James adeptly portrays a foolish young girl in love, and Hammer pulls off Maxim as a man full of mystery. Thomas, in particular, excels at her job of developing a subtly unsettling Mrs. Danvers.
But the film runs through its scenes in a quite episodic manner. In one moment, the young protagonist and Maxim are falling in love, and in the next, she’s at the Manderley mansion. Everything happens chronologically, and the majority of the scenes do not offer foreshadowing, significant props, or hints at what’s to come.
Since the film fails to employ these techniques, it lacks the true intrigue of many great mystery movies. Even the impressive set design cannot fix this episodic editing, as the sequencing of scenes simply runs through new settings at the convenience of the plot.
Rebecca may be worth the watch for a favorite actor or for those interested in set design. But for those who enjoy investing themselves in a film’s plot, there is simply better content to watch right now. Rebecca pales in comparison to many thrillers being released this fall, as well as du Maurier’s actual novel. The novel’s plot and premise are genuinely interesting, but the movie’s editing fails to show this to the audience, and the acting can’t shine through the episodic structure. In short, the film simply misses the mark.
Featured image courtesy of Netflix