When I saw that Netflix was remaking the classic gothic thriller/ romance Rebecca, I wasn’t overly surprised.
I’ve noticed over recent years that the gothic genre has been making a comeback, and it seems to have come to a head with this reimagining of classic Daphne du Maurier novel. The novel, and the subsequent film directed by the great Alfred Hitchcock, are both the epitome of gothic fiction.
They encapsulate every aspect of the genre, including the over-the-top characters, the ominous settings, and the dramatic plot twists. In my mind, they cement the fact that the gothic is an enduring genre that keeps coming back.
It has to be said, that some of the most renowned early examples of the genre, such as The Yellow Wallpaper, The Monk: A Romance and The Castle of Otranto aren’t exceptional popular, but others have enjoyed enduring renown, both in print form and on screen. Dracula, Frankenstein and Jane Eyre all get remade or reimagined every few years, and they’ve never gone out of print.
The gothic has also crept into work that was written at around the same time, but aren’t necessarily what you might call gothic novels. One notable example is the Christmas Agatha Christie adaptation, which, for the past few years, has gotten darker and darker. They’ve also taken on many gothic traits in the way that both the BBC and ITV create their adaptations.
While some Christie fans might lament the fact that the adaptations aren’t always entirely accurate to the source material, I for one think that they’re interesting TV shows that put a new spin on old classics. These adaptations also prove that some aspects of gothic horror and literature, such as the sumptuous period settings, isolated properties and eerie characters, remain a popular troupe on screen and in writing.
Another great example of the gothic and its dark, twisted portrayal of human nature is the Dickens adaptations that the BBC has put out in recent years, also usually around Christmas or in early winter. One notable one was last year’s version of A Christmas Carol. The dark and sinister version bought out all the worst in the classic characters and showed that gothic elements troupes remain relevant even when they weren’t overtly visible in the original text.
The new Netflix film isn’t the most stunning example of gothic cinema- in fact, I’d go so far as to say it falls flat in a number of places. However, it shows that viewers still crave, and production companies are still willing to create, films that are supposed to embody the gothic tradition, even if, as in this case, they fail miserably.
The remake has nothing on Hitchcock’s original. Despite its sumptuous backdrops and clearly extensive costume budget, it fails to thrill, surprise or shock the viewer, which is the whole bloody point of gothic cinema. The actors constantly look like they’re trying far too much to look scared that they fail to do so.
At the end of the day, in 2020, gothic horror and psychological thrillers are a welcome escape from the terrors of reality. With their beautiful décor and stylish costumes, these films and shows are a beautiful, yet terrifying, and a welcome relief after the trauma and sheer stupidity that is the current global crisis. I’d personally like to see a new film adaptation of Jane Austen’s hilarious gothic satire, Northanger Abbey, in the future. It’s a funny and witty take on the genre, and I think that modern viewers would be thrilled and get a laugh out of it, which, frankly, is what we all need right now.