Sunday, May 6, 2012

Is It All In Your Mind? The Yellow Wallpaper (2011)

Greetings horror lovers!
Today I will be reviewing the 2011 film The Yellow Wallpaper.
It is the first feature length film of director Logan Thomas, who has been told to have an experimental style, and this is definitely present in his horror film.

 If the title sounds familiar to you, it is because the film is based off a short story by Charlotte Perkins Gilman about a woman going through postpartum psychosis. I don’t usually like to compare movies to their written roots because they are two different medias, and adaptations are allowed to have their own interpretations; that is the beauty of art.

However, there are some that come out absolutely atrocious. For example, the 2012 remake of The Woman in Black.  That movie is just… awful.  The Yellow Wallpaper is a whole new telling of Ms. Gilman’s story, but I believe it does it well, and it stands alone as its own independent version of the story.

 It turns out the film was written in part by Aric Cushing, who is also the protagonist in the film. He plays John Weiland, a doctor who is moving into a new home with his wife and her sister after a ravaging fire takes their home and their young daughter, Sarah.

 John’s wife, Charlotte (played by Juliete Landau, who co-starred in Ed Wood), has been struggling with her composure and her sanity ever since the fire. Her and John have become distant because she silently blames herself and her husband for their daughter’s death, for they were becoming “intimate” at the time the fire broke out.

 Charlotte’s sister, Jennie Gilman, is portrayed by the FABULOUS Dale Dickey, seen in Winter’s Bone and Super 8. Jennie is along to provide support for Charlotte and help her through this tragedy. She is strong and kind but “over-exaggerates”, as John believes.

The film is set simply in America, 1892, and is foreboding from the start. The house that the family is carriage-bound for was told to them by a man named Mr. Hendricks, who wrote to them once he heard of the devastating fire. He seems like a nice enough guy, but Jennie gets the feeling that there are things being left unsaid.

 Overcome with grief, they are struggling to adapt to life in the house. “We lived as if in a dream, from which we could not awaken,” John says in his solemn voice. The locals are strange and prying; the whole town is a mystery. There are strange noises in the woods, an infestation of rats, and whenever anyone tries to travel into town, they end up lost in a dusty wasteland.

Charlotte is troubled by apparitions of her daughter, and often retreats into the attic, a small room covered in bright yellow wallpaper. The house becomes stranger and stranger the longer they inhabit it; they are plagued by vanishing intruders and unexplainable noises. Things become too much for Jennie, who decides to leave the house for some time.

 As they are left alone, John and Charlotte cease to be bothered by the entities and begin to rebuild their relationship. Their days are filled with the quiet love that they have not felt since they lost their daughter, and Charlotte insists that they remain in the house, for she can feel Sarah’s presence surrounding it.

 Jennie returns, but not alone; she brings along an old friend and psychic by the name of Catherine (Veronica Cartwright, most notably seen in The Birds!), whom John and Charlotte reluctantly accept her into their house.

This is where the film takes it’s spiraling turn, which I must leave for you to interpret for yourself. Let me just tell you that the rest is pretty flipping crazy, and I want you all to see this movie so we can talk about it and I can perhaps fully understand the events that take place.

 The first thing I noticed about this movie was its splendid dramatic score, which was done by the director himself. It carries throughout the whole movie and never gives you a moment to rest and collect your sanity. I was also impressed by the script, which Thomas and Cushing created entirely themselves since the story has very little dialogue to work with.

 If you noticed the connection between the character names and the author’s name, it is because Gilman’s story was semi-autobiographical, and all the names in the film are the names used in the short story. However, Gilman struggled through madness after the birth of her child, rather than the death of it as the film’s Charlotte does.

 Overall, I was pretty pleased with the film. It wasn’t what I was expected having been familiar with the written story, but I enjoyed the story they created through inspiration of Gilman’s piece. The experimental quality was refreshing, as I prefer to not have my plots handed to me on a silver platter, and the cinematography was a mixture of soft, dusty light and lovely shadows.

 The genre is definitely horror, but it is hard to say if it is a ghost story or something much stranger. Whatever it may be, it is certainly a fresh perspective on old tropes, and it is a film that will keep you on the edge of your seat, and on the brink of insanity.

 “Through watching so much at night, when it changes so, I have finally found out. The front pattern does move -- and no wonder! The woman behind shakes it!” –Charlotte Perkins Gilman

 *Review by MR


The Mike said...

Man, I had no idea this existed! Fell in love with this story during a college class, must check it out.

Great review!

Spooky Vegan said...

Ooooh been looking forward to this one! Glad to hear you dug it!

sewa elf said...

Nice article, thanks for the information.

Anonymous said...

Knew this would become a Cult Classic when it was being written and the scouting began for location and talent. Even though I am related to one of the premier creators of the film, I have always been able to be objective of his work. This IS a masterpiece and will gain more kudos as time passes. It is 'lush' with artistic value while appealing to those of us who love our dose of 'horror'.

Presten Tok said...

First off, I think this film is a refreshing change of pace from the plethora of predictable, cookie-cutter horror movies we've seen lately. The movie is effective, well-crafted and skillfully filmed. Unlike 2011's "Insidious", The Yellow Wallpaper does not show a ghost every 10 seconds. However, its use of lighting to set a dark and dreadful mood was masterful and even mor eeffective.

However, I do think the film is marred by a nonsensical ending, which is a shame because the first 95% of it is so very good.

While it does not quite follow the story the plot of the Gilman short story, it did have me wondering if the house is actually haunted or if everything was being imagined by Charlotte (the wife) or John (the husband)?

I also wondered if, perhaps, all of them perished in the fire that took the life of their daughter, and that they are in some sort of purgatory?

I thought the scene in which the daughter, Sarah seemingly comes back from the dead was one of the creepiest scenes I've witnessed in a long time.

The ending, as well as the resolution of the story, however, made no sense whatsoever. First of all, who was the viking guy? He was kind of like the giant in Twin Peaks - he appears out of nowhere and what he says makes no sense. Also, the explanation that the film gives in the end for all of the supernatural occurences left us scratching our heads and asking "Huh? What just happened? That totally does not fit in to the overall story arch."

All in all, however, this film is an above-average horror movie, which is rare nowadays. Big thumb's up.

Anonymous said...

A very good review to whoever wrote it. I just saw this on Netflix and this movie is a refershing change of pace from all of the cookie-cutter haunted house movies of late. It immediately invokes a creepiness and haunted atmosphere through its use of lighting. Unlike 2011's "Insidious," it does not show a ghost every 10 seconds. Therefore, when this film does deliver the goods they are truly effective.

In this film, we see a bit of Shirley Jackson's "The Haunting of Hill House," Stanley Kubrik's film adaptation of "The Shining" and a a few others.

Also, there is the mystery element to this story. Given the short story it is based on, we're wondering if the house is really haunted or if everything that is happening is being imagined by Charlotte (the wife) or even John (the husband).

The scene when the daughter seemingly comes back from the dead is among the creepiest I've seen in a long time.

The one thing, however, that drags this movie down is the ending. IT makes no sense whatsoever, and doesn't really fit in to the overall story arch. It really left us scratching our heads. Who was that viking dude, and what did he have to do with teh story? MY wife suggested that he is supposed to be the archangel Gabriel. I don't know.

Still, it was kind of disappointing that the film tries to offer us some sort of logical resolution - there is no rule that says that a horror film should have one. The makers of this film might have been better off explaining anything.

Christine Hadden said...

While we are always happy to get comments here at FWF, these last two seem to be awfully similar.
Schizophrenia anyone?
In any case, thank you for reading!

Primus said...

In response to one of the commenters, it seems the ending involved vampires.

In my speculation, the man who gave the couple the house was a sort of vampire who'd been turned into a vampire by a previous one (as this went on for three centuries).

The man we saw eating at the table was the same man from a painting in the movie. He was infected with the vampire disease, and answering the question ("Where is my wife?") with "she's in my veins" means he sucked the blood out of her (though didn't kill her). He then bit the main male character.

The wife becomes a night vampire, the husband becomes... I'm not really sure, but it's obvious he can walk in the daytime. He's selling real estate to the next family interested in the house. Probably so he can feed them to his wife. Or turn them into vampires.

This movie was all over the place, and I didn't really like it.

Anonymous said...

I love, and hate this movie for the same left me thinking, thinking what did i just watch? Starting off, I have not read the short story, and now, I think it is a must. However, i think the movie would still leave me asking, "What the french fry batman?" To me, and i feel that in agreement with others, this is a ghost/vampire film. Either way, its madness, and something different for a change.

Anonymous said...

This this movie was absolutely terrible. The dialogue was forced, the acting dismal, the score incredibly over dramatic, and the camera work was sloppy at best.

Just because it's different doesn't mean it's good.

Anonymous said...

it was an interesting film with a dark, gloomy atmosphere. i like the suprise ending with the whole vampire thing. however, the acting by the guy who plays john, the husband was terrible. it was painful to watch. i thought the only really good acting was delivered by the actress who plays jenny. i like the story, but it could have been done so much better (better writing and better actors).

Anonymous said...

I think that the short story is a classic and a wonderful work of art. Which was turned into a forced, lame excuse for an "origin myth". I was so intrigued by this movie hoping it would dig further into the amazing short story. That is not the case. You should certainly read the original because it is a literary milestone for women writers. This movie took a great mysterious story and bastardized it into something attempting to be an artsy scary suspense movie with no logical closing. What a shame.

Anonymous said...

Can anybody explain to me what the duel was about? What did John do? What did any of that have to do with anything. So confused....