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My Cousin Rachel [2017]

My Cousin Rachel [2017]: Based on a novel from the same author that wrote Rebecca (adapted by Alfred Hitchcock), My Cousin Rachel is an easy film to imagine having the possibility of being a great work. Perhaps one of the warning signs to temper one's expectations for the film is that it is directed by Roger Michell. He is not a bad director, mind you, but he is nonetheless a hit-and-miss director. At the end of the day, My Cousin Rachel winds up representing both spectrums with a film that is only slightly better than its flaws, mainly due to an excellent final act. However, a mightily slow build-up that seems to meander or cut too much, My Cousin Rachel begins fizzling before finally settling in and playing up some tremendous paranoia-driven tension about who the mysterious Rachel (Rachel Weisz) really is. Did you she murder Ambrose and is now set to poison Philip (Sam Claflin) in the same way or is she entirely innocent? As My Cousin Rachel reveals, the answer is far more complicated than it may appear on the surface.

Compelling mystery. Where the confusion comes in is in regard to Philip (Sam Claflin). With Ambrose either being poisoned by Rachel or going mad due to a brain tumor - and no clarity is given as to which fate is true, even if all death certificates cite the tumor, Philip refuses to believe them due to cryptic letters about how Rachel was killing Ambrose - Philip is obviously in mourning. With Rachel coming to England to visit him in the home that Ambrose bequeathed to him, Philip believes this to be his chance to exact revenge. Unfortunately, he is so smitten by Rachel and her "radiant" beauty, he quickly becomes infatuated and fully obsessed. Tossing away his fortune and becoming terrifyingly violent when she rebukes his attempts to buy her heart, My Cousin Rachel turns on a heal and becomes more-or-less a film about toxic masculinity and the belief held by many men that women "owe" them affection and sex. Mind you, Rachel does mislead him a bit, but later becomes quite clear she has no feelings. Yet, Philip persists to the point that one begins to wonder who the terrifying presence really is in this home.

Unreliable narrator faces off with femme fatale. Further muddying these waters is not just Philip's position as a deeply unreliable narrator, but also by the fact that he begins to become quite ill. With disturbing visions, passing out for five days, and blinding headaches, one can easily assume that he may have a tumor like Ambrose had. Considering Rachel is the constant here and consistently rubs mysterious substances into his tea that taste awful, one cannot fault the audience for believing that the two are connected. For his part, Michell does an excellent job playing up this mystery. Regardless of which conclusion one comes to by the time the truth is revealed at the end, it is easily defended. There is equal evidence for both parts and Michell's ability to create this compelling mystery is certainly the film's greatest achievement as it smartly uses its unreliable narrator, but equally, develops a manipulative and dangerous femme fatale.

Toxic masculinity takes hold. All culminating in an explosive finale, My Cousin Rachel winds up becoming a mystery film with some serious bite to it all. However, as certainly hinted throughout, the film is not so much a mystery. While some believe it to be a rather predictable one if it is a mystery (I did not find it to be so), it is largely a romantic drama. Speaking on topics of toxic masculinity and men's belief that women are to be distrusted, while also owing them sex in return for their affection, My Cousin Rachel is a harrowing film on that front. Philip quickly becomes possessive and constantly indulges in romantic overtures that make Rachel so uncomfortable, women who have become victim of this type of "nice guy" will likely have flashbacks to the horror. Asking her to marry him, giving her gifts he cannot give and throwing money at her, Rachel can do no wrong until she does not return his affection. At that point, Philip quickly begins recalling what Ambrose had told him about Rachel and is quickly set out for blood to punish her for not liking him back and for, in his mind, killing Ambrose.

Feels a lot longer due to dreadfully slow pacing in first two acts. However, My Cousin Rachel's developments of these themes simply take far too long. With prolonged scenes of them getting to know each other, exchanging letters, and Philip going to Italy to query after Ambrose, the film's slow and far-too-dull pacing winds up being its biggest fault. Until all of its conflicts come to a head, it simply clunks along casually to the point that it threatens to put the entire audience to sleep. While its tension and mystery can be felt at all times, it simply never amplifies itself enough to truly compelling in the first two acts and then it never finds itself entertaining in those two acts either. Rather, My Cousin Rachel becomes quite dry and more of a snapshot of life in the 1800s with regards to letters and meeting with lawyers about wills than it should have, if it were looking to be a truly engaging work. While this is the film’s main and most explicit flaw, it is rather detrimental and would be deadlier for a film that lacks the closing punch that My Cousin Rachel is lucky to possess.

Uneven editing. Furthering this slow pace is seriously uneven editing that never really seems to find a rhythm. Scenes are strung together with little attention paid to whether it actually works for those scenes to lead into one another and, worse, scenes can often times overstay their welcome or be too brief to the point that they are forgotten. There is no real reverence for what is included, instead My Cousin Rachel takes the approach that whatever can be tossed in should be tossed into the final product. This is certainly a reason why the film drags as it never really works as a cohesive film, rather a mishmash of scenes, emotions, and tones, that come together rather awkwardly as Michell is unable to make it work. The only time its various tones - mystery, drama, and romance, namely - come together is in that aforementioned finale. However, though Michell nails the shock reveal of it all, the film seems to rush to that conclusion at the end with the climactic moment itself being one that could have used a long take but instead gets a quick shot before moving onto its impact on everyone around the events.

Gorgeous imagery. Fortunately, no matter how slow and uneven the film is, it never ceases to be absolutely gorgeous. The highlight of this being a shot of Philip holding a candle as he says goodnight to Rachel while she is sitting on her curtained-off bed. With the dark room engulfing them, the candlelight beautifully flickers about with its orange-tinged flame and creates a rather gorgeous shot. Honestly, any shot with candles involved in similarly gorgeous with Michell using this candlelight brilliantly in not just capturing the period feel, but to make the film a visual feast. This same beauty is translated to the production and costume design, which is equally terrific. In particular, the design of Philip’s home is a sight to behold at all times from when it is dusty and in disrepair to when it really begins to liven up. Unfortunately, the film rarely gives us a nice pan throughout the home to really show us every crevice of the interior, but the bits that we can see are quite nicely designed and capture the period aesthetic perfectly. Outside of the home, the film remains gorgeous with Michell’s camera never really indulging in too many long takes of the landscape, but nonetheless, captures the green beauty of the terrain in England. The sequence by the cliff where Philip nearly falls off really embodies this with the scene being not only tense but rather pleasant to watch.

 

Despite great imagery, compelling themes, and a shocking third act, My Cousin Rachel’s painfully slow first two acts wind up being its undoing as it has largely lost you by the time it reaches its third act. Fortunately, that act is so shocking and explanatory, it makes the film more than worth it as an entire picture, even if it is far from being the best adaptation of a Daphne du Maurier novel.

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My Cousin Rachel [2017]
3.0Overall Score
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