My Cousin Rachel (2017) is the Victorian-horror-romance we need
|Fox Searchlight Pictures|
Observing from afar, a young man Phillip (Sam Claflin) becomes suspicious about the torrid affair between his cousin Ambrose and companion Rachel (Rachel Weisz). When his revered fatherly figure dies rather quickly and under mysterious circumstances, Phillip declares justice for his loss but instead finds himself down a path Ambrose took: falling under her spell.
So rarely does a Gothic horror movie plant a very simple idea in our heads, but My Cousin Rachel sparks us to ask did she or didn't she, and then makes us question our choice every step of the way.
From the beginning, Phillip's beliefs about her guilt and wanting to make her pay for his relative's death is easy to side with. What he knows or assumes about Rachel from his loved one's letters about her as a "torment" and his worsening his health is all we need to believe she may be guilty too. When she shows up on his doorstep, her compelling presence, only wanting the best of everything for him, makes it difficult to gauge whether she's working his emotions to her own benefit or if she's as innocent as she could be. Lacking in any romantic relationships himself, he's overwhelmed by her femininity and prowess, easily squashing the vengeance he held so firmly. But as Phillip grows increasingly obsessed with his newfound love, nearly vying for ownership over her, it becomes harder to see Rachel as a murderess casting revenge, and more of a free spirit not wanting to be possessed by anyone; unfortunately, caged in by societal rules.
One thing is almost certain: their love affair will end in catastrophe, but along the way, the story keeps asking who is the culprit. The story starts out concerned if Rachel murdered Ambrose, and slowly begins mirroring a possibility of how their relationship grew troublesome. At once Phillip and Rachel can be hopeful, joyous, and splendidly over the moon about each other, but then on a dime, turn extraordinarily spiteful and malicious. At every turn, Rachel never escapes the unyielding paranoia Phillip has cast on her, or she casted on herself. For both of them, the question we started out with of who killed Ambrose turns into who is the victim and the manipulator.
To make this work, the leads had to be very special. From big adaptations like The Hunger Games and Me Before You to smaller productions like Their Finest, Sam Claflin rarely does no-wrong (but maybe I'm biased 'cause he's good in everything). Phillip required someone who was dashing and broken, skeptical and selfish, and Claflin offers everything that his character needs to believe in his convictions, and whether they're wrong or right. To build up his downfalls, by the same token, Rachel Weisz captures an enigmatic spirit for Rachel. In no time at all, one can't help but be warmed by her spirits, sympathetic of the quickly forgotten notion that she too lost Ambrose, guilty for maybe casting her innocence aside too soon, but alsoleft questioning her intentions. Throughout her career she's managed a myriad of complex roles, slipping under the radar as one of the best actresses in Meryl Streep's league. Together, they make an hypnotic, twisted and complicated Victorian couple for the screen.
Melding the story and performances with the direction and stunning cinematography, My Cousin Rachel adequately fills every gothic-romance fanatics's needs. If a scene is cast in a meadow, one can't help but feel the breeze and freedom the outdoor gives. When set inside the house, it's quaint by claustrophobic. Every frame evokes that moody, unrequited stay in a haunted house waiting for the skeletons to come out of the closet. As an author DuMaurier has always been ample material for Hitchcockian-like films, and Roger Mitchell rekindling one of her stories again here delivers the ambiguity she delved into and makes a visually and emotionally pleasing puzzle.
My Cousin Rachel proves to be a compelling mystery, and a rare chameleon as a whirlwind love affair and an identity crises for its leads. Thriving on paranoia, the who-dun-it elements work seamlessly for a first viewing, and subsequently inspires you to seek what you might've missed the first time around. Aided by fascinating underrated actors, a capable script, and beautiful cinematography, the movie dispenses a daunting ballad of horror and romance.
Have you seen My Cousin Rachel?
What did you think?