2011 was a banner year for yellow wallpaper, my god. There were not one, not two, not three, but four movies based (more or less loosely) on Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s short story, including… well, this one. I don’t know about the others, but this one is a low-budget horror movie, and therefore – as you have probably already guessed – bears basically no resemblance to the short story beyond the main character’s first name and the fact that one room is papered in a rather terrifying yellow wallpaper. Seriously, this wallpaper is a scary character in and of itself. I can’t imagine anyone could possibly have put it up unironically.
The movie poster contains the tagline “Are we already dead?” Your guess is as good as mine as to why. It doesn’t have anything to do with the actual movie.
Anyway, the story. The fact that it bears very little resemblance to the short story is just as well, because the POV character appears to be the husband, which in another film would have been an astoundingly crass co-opting of a feminist narrative. In this one, John and Charlotte Weiland (Aric Cushing and Juliet Landau), accompanied by Charlotte’s sister Jennie (Dale Dickey), have just lost their house and their daughter in a fire. Still in shock and possessed only of the clothes on their back, they rent the obligatory spooky house.
Soon, however, all of them start seeing visions of the dead daughter. Jennie goes off somewhere and returns with a psychic (Veronica Cartwright) in tow to tell them that there is Something Evil in the house, and things go rapidly downhill from there.
The thing about The Yellow Wallpaper is that the four main actors are far and away better than the movie deserves. They actually manage to sell it for most of the run time. Not the end, because this movie ends in a denouement so flat-out silly that Ian McKellen at the right hand of Sara Bernhardt couldn’t have saved it, but more of it than the filmmakers had any right to expect. The dialogue is painful, there are way too many scenes that just make no sense and don’t even seem to belong in the movie, and the “We are seeing everything through a thick yellow fog, look at us being all profound and allegorical” cinematography was ill-advised. Mostly what I took away from this was that I’d like to see the cast play similar roles in a much better movie.
So what’s the verdict? Two stars. If it weren’t for the cast, this movie would be hanging by its fingernails at one star, with the last fifteen minutes threatening to overbalance it right into the zero-star quagmire. If you only see one 2011 movie based on “The Yellow Wallpaper” this year, you’ve probably got three better choices. I haven’t seen any of them, but I have a hard time imagining that they could really be much worse.