Sunday, February 03, 2013

The Yellow Wallpaper – review

Director: Logan Thomas

Release date: 2012

Contains spoilers

When I write a review I always put the rider “Contains Spoilers” with it and, invariably, there are (bar the occasional film that has no plot to spoil). This one, however, is a pretty massive spoiler just by being reviewed as the vampire aspect is only revealed at the very end of the film. Sorry… but just like the Hamiltons I have to completely spoilt the twist.

The film itself is based on the Charlotte Perkins Gilman short story of the same name (very, very, very vaguely) but could be said – even before the vampiric twist – to be little more than a reimagining in real terms. In many respects the main female role in this is meant to be a fictionalised version of Gilman and the story she writes in film (that we hear commentated upon but do not hear that content of) is the Yellow Wallpaper.

Juliet Landau as Charlotte
It begins with the camera focused on a woman, Charlotte (Juliet Landau, Buffy the Vampire Slayer), writing at a desk, whilst we hear words spoken by her husband Dr John Weiland (Aric Cushing). He talks about the death of their daughter Sarah (Jessi Case) killed in a fire at their home, a fire that robbed them of all their possessions and their home, as well as their daughter and ultimately, as John mentions, robbed him of his wife.

It is 1892 and a carriage takes John, Charlotte and her sister Jennie (Dale Dickey) to their new home. Charlotte cries in Jennie’s arms whilst John sits with the driver a mister Isaac Hendricks (Michael Moriarty). Hendricks is renting them a new home, the Wakefield house. The owners rent the house out and it is full of items that the family can use – though not remove. Later we hear that the house is a distance from their former home and Hendricks sought them out.

Dale Dickey as Jennie
Things start getting more and more strange and figures are seen, including that of Sarah. Jennie is uncomfortable in the house but Charlotte begins to believe that it is a conduit that will allow her to be with her daughter again. It is clear, at first, that she blames John for the loss (they had snuck out of the house, leaving Sarah alone, to be together) but as the character driven aspect of the film rolls on we see them grow closer together. This character aspect of the film was good, but things within the plot and some of the settings and symbolism engaged were perhaps under-explored.

the ill-placed desert
There is a quick route to town (about a 25 minute walk) but one ends up in a desert area and that seemed odd after the lush countryside. Later, whilst traversing that desert, John asks a man clearly from the past whether he (John) is dead. This kind of fit in with the purgatory aspect of the expanse, which the inclusion seemed to suggest, but ultimately I don’t think it was anything more than a desert. The few locals we see all seem odd and we discover that the town has a rat infestation problem. There is a graveyard just behind the house but two graves are also uncovered (empty) in the front yard. Much of the weirdness aspects went under-explored.

Eckhart van Wakefield is a vampire
For the most of its running length this is a ghost story, a psychic is even brought to the house in the form of Jennie’s friend Catherine Sayer (Veronica Cartwright). Jennie notices a portrait frame with the picture ripped away that purports to have been of Eckhart van Wakefield (Pieter Kloos). At the climax, John is looking for a carriage so they can leave and the sisters are waiting outside the house. They are chased back into the house by wolves and we then discover that Eckhart van Wakefield still lives in the house (in a secret space behind the yellow wallpaper) and is a victim of 'the disease' – vampirism.

The ghost of Sarah
Flashbacks show us the interactions with the vampire, which they have forgotten, and we discover that the ghosts were previous victims trying to warn the family away. Vampires, we discover, are creatures of the night and control the wills of animals, especially rats and wolves. They can also distort reality it seems and certainly can manipulate memory. There is an indication that earth (grave or native is not revealed) is necessary to their existence. There is a piece of lore I don’t want to spoil as I have already spoilt one main twist and do not wish to spoil the other.

The film is atmospheric but at times one feels that perhaps it is a little too languid in its approach. Juliet Landau is marvellous in her role but the film itself lacks in some exposition that it desperately needed. Is it bad, no, but it could have been so much better. 5.5 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.


Ace said...

I was hoping to see a final scene where a vampire Juliet Landau emerges out of the wallpaper. It would be a good, nostalgic callback to her days as the vampire Drusilla on Buffy and Angel. Possibly the scariest but most underrated on-screen vampire of all time.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Hi Ace, yes JL was excellent as Drusilla :)

Ace said...

The entire movie is now streaming on YouTube. When exactly do we see the flashback scenes with the vampire?

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Ace - as far as I can find, a version of the story is streaming on YouTube, but not this production.

Ace said...

It is though:

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Good spot - it didn't come up on a cursory search. As you have the film you can watch it to find the flashbacks (it has been 8 years since I watched it). My interpretation was that we see moments of the interaction in flashback but where I can't remember

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Also, note that there has been more than 1 cut of the film (it was re-released last year as Phantoms) - I assume this is the cut I saw on DVD but can't be positive

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Ok, I had a quick look... they are between 1:27:22 and 1:28:00 and they literally are flashes of flashback

Ace said...

Aah thank you! At 1:29:46, are those the burned ashes of the vampire? Is Charlotte replacing him somehow?

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Hi Ace, yes, that's my reading. She has contracted "the disease" but John is needed as the daylight servant to bring others to her so she can feed (and she in turn will keep him alive)