The Yellow Wallpaper (
directed by K Pontuti
starring Alexandra Loreth, Joe Mullins, Jeanne O’Connor
There is an incident in a carriage near the opening of the film that is so brutal it is almost comic. The fact that this incident seems to have been entirely in the imagination of the lead character Jane instantly creates a sense of discord. Whose point of view are we seeing this from? How reliable is our narrator?
The Yellow Wallpaper is a timeless classic. Written in 1892, the short story by Charlotte Perkins Gilman has been recognized as a fundamental modernist feminist text that uses Gothic horror to highlight the suppression of women, and specifically the treatment of female mental health issues at the time. Jane (Loreth) and her husband are spending the summer in a country house retreat. John (Mullins), a doctor, has prescribed a period of rest for his wife after the birth of their baby. Jane is suffering from what John has diagnosed as a temporary depression the cure for which is to stay in her room and rest and take occasional walks in the garden. John’s sister Jennie (O’Connor) and a maid will take care of the baby. Though Jane suggest other ways that may improve her condition she is overruled by her husband and is, in effect, banished to her room which is decorated with a sickly yellow, intricately patterned wallpaper.
Though the source material takes the form of a journal and, as such, is an internalized monologue in which Jane’s mental decline and increasingly hallucinatory visions are most shocking because of the creeping dread that slowly seep into her words here the filmmakers choose to show and not tell. From the very beginning of the film there is a sense that something terrible is about to happen, often instigated by the excellent soundtrack by Robert J Coburn and genuinely disturbing sound design by Edmund Jakober.
There is a kind of mannered somnambulant underacting by the entire cast that some may find unbearably sluggish but I found entirely in keeping with the strange dream/nightmare environment of the house and garden. Loreth, who co-wrote the script, is particularly good in the lead especially towards the end of the film where her performance escalates with a physicality to match the psychosis she is representing. The film is slow but effective. The horror and hysteria allowed time to build. The imagery carefully crafted, using bedposts and gateways as signifiers of cages, using sunlight and long shadows to highlight suppression and repression. The country house and its manicured garden shift into being gothic castle and overgrown grounds as the woman who is or isn’t trapped inside the wallpaper creeps out into the world. And the phantasmagorical nature of the wallpaper and the horror it contains are beautifully realised with lighting shifts and lens changes rather than CGI. As Jane’s condition deteriorates the edits become quicker and towards the end, a kaleidoscopic fast cut is perfectly representative of her fractured mind.
This is a bold and vivid interpretation of Gilman’s story that is unafraid to step outside the source material and in so doing creates a film that satisfies both as a horror movie and as a traditional period drama.
The Yellow Wallpaper is available on digital platforms in the USA. Other territories to follow.
Main Image: Alexandra Loreth as Jane, screen grab from trailer.
Kirk Lake is a writer, musician and filmmaker. His published books include Mickey The Mimic (2015) and The Last Night of the Leamington Licker (2018). His films include the feature films Piercing Brightness (2014) and The World We Knew (2020) and a number of award winning shorts.
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