The Yellow Wallpaper (2011)

Posted: September 5, 2012 in 2 stars, Reviews
Tags: ,

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.


  1. Carrie M. Billings says:

    Wow. I watched this film and wanted to casually see what people were saying and I am surprised to see so much harsh criticism. You mentioned that you didn’t understand the tag , ‘are we already dead’?, but the main character says it in the middle of the movie. I am thinking that after all the strange goings-on, the main character asks this question in the middle of the film because he suspects that after the death of their daughter, that everyone in the house (the characters included) are dead and just existing in a dream state. Either way, I loved this film. I did like some of your criticisms for sure. This film reminded me of Picnic at Hanging Rock (which is an Australian film), and has much similarity in the fact that there are many unanswered questions. 2 Stars though? I can’t help but comparing it to major films that have lots of financing (I don’t think this film had much), like Man of Steel or something. That movie was 2 stars and they had studio backing. For what the filmmakers were trying to attempt, the acting, period film, the sets, and based on a story which is almost impossible to convey into a feature length film, I would still give it 3 stars if one didn’t like it. Personally, I give it 4 stars myself. But honestly, the complexity alone was something which I personally liked. But a film like this should have only been made BEFORE the internet, and tumblr, and all these internet social media sites. You have to watch it from beginning to end, or you are completely lost. Also, I don’t think it would translate well if watched on a computer. In fact, probably anyone that watches it on a computer will hate it I am thinking. So my opinion is if you like David Lynch type of editing, weird turns, and an interpretive filmgoing experience, you will enjoy the film. But again, I am glad the film did not follow the original story, and that it moved in a variety of directions. Plus, I liked the representation of women because you rarely see movies with varying age groups with women characters. Usually in movies there is just ONE woman character (around 30 years old). I thought the representation of women was thoughtful by the two men filmmakers, and the fact that they went against the Hollywood norm of casting pretty 30 year olds was pretty daring. I enjoyed the interactions between 3 older women in a period film. You don’t usually see that very much!
    ~ Carrie M.

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