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Gothic Horror for the Hoi Polloi

Netflix's Rebecca is no Hitchcock but should we care?

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I've been thinking a lot about Guy Fieri. I recently listened to an interview he did with Dan Pashman, host of The Sporkful podcast, in which they boiled the state of the nation down to a "Donkey Sauce/aioli cultural divide." They're the same thing, Donkey Sauce and aioli, according to Fieri himself — who also said in the interview that he "hates" that infamous flame shirt — but virtue signaling begins where the prongs of one's fork ends.

And so it is with Netflix's 2020 remake of Rebecca, which I almost didn't watch after reading a rather poisonous review on a website I love. The self-congratulatory vitriol of the review reminded me a lot of Pete Well's 2012 pan of Guy's American Kitchen & Bar in Times Square. I mean, there's useful and then there's just over-the-top meanness. In both cases, the reviewer seems to be saying. "There's absolutely nothing good or lovable about this vehicle; it's beneath your dignity to consume it and if you feel otherwise, you're a trash person." Which makes me and other people who just love what we love feel kind of shitty. Fieri, from what I can tell, is a quality dude who has donated thousands of dollars to firefighters and started a fund to support restaurant workers during COVID-19. He's an incredibly successful restaurateur who started his first business at age 10 and whose life's ambition was to buy his family home in Ferndale from his parents. (Which he did!) People love to dunk on him because of his frosty tips and that flame shirt (which, again, he hates) and because they feel shriveled up inside at the idea that someone out there might be having fun with food without their approval. And honestly? Screw them.

I'm sorry, I know you came here to find out about Rebecca. Here's the thing about Rebecca, originally a 1938 novel by Daphne duMaurier that was made into an Academy Award-winning film by Alfred Hitchcock in 1940 — it's Donkey Sauce. It was Donkey Sauce when Daphne duMaurier wrote it and as long as it has the same basic ingredients (a relationship between a mysterious, wealthy widower and a poor ladies' companion, a grand Gothic setting, an ominous housekeeper, a murder mystery) it will remain Donkey Sauce. Sure, you can call Hitchcock's adaptation with Laurence Olivier aioli if you want but let's not pretend that we're not here to be entertained. There are plenty of films that are the cinematic equivalent of kale — Rebecca will never be one of them.

So the new Netflix version, directed by Ben Wheatley? It's a whole lot of fun. How could it not be? Armie Hammer stars as brooding Maxim de Winter, Lily James as his unnamed bride. Ann Dowd kills it, as usual, playing the gruesome Mrs. Van Hopper and Kristin Scott Thomas nails the role of the dour, villainous Mrs. Danvers. If your particular taste in comfort food/movies runs toward period pieces with precise vintage clothing and lavish sets, then you'll be more than satisfied. (Monte Carlo circa 1930? Yes, please.) If you haven't read the original novel (you should) I won't hit you with any spoilers, but let's just say that the relationships in this text start off on the shallow end of the pool and then drop into the deep end rather suddenly, and it's an honest pleasure to watch these actors take the plunge together.

Wheatley plays fast and loose with the ambiguity of duMaurier's gender politics and emotional catharsis, revealing much more about our (always nameless) central heroine than the book did, and fabricating a happy-ish ending through a final monologue. But honestly, who cares? It's 2020 — please let me watch pretty people in vintage clothes bond over homicide in peace, for God's sake. Pour that shit on; I've got nothing to prove. PG13. 121M. NETFLIX.

Linda Stansberry (she/her) lives in Eureka. You can find her work at www.lindastansberry.com.

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