Among cinema's many lessons—carried over from film's highbrow relatives literature and theater—is one newly revived: beware of seemingly kind women serving tea and sympathy. In Get Out, a masterpiece of subversion, Jordan Peele used the feminine trope, most likely a remnant from accusations of witchcraft, for both mood and means. But the drink itself is irrelevant for Catherine Keener's soporific hypnotist, whose insidious intent is fulfilled by the mere clinking of cutlery on china.
This isn't the case for Rachel, played with her signature wide-eyed flatness by namesake Rachel Weisz, who, in writer-director Roger Michell's (“Notting Hill,” “Le Week-End”) adaptation of Daphne Du Maurier’s 1951 novel, is obsessed with creating herbal tinctures, which she refers to as tizana (not to be confused with the ubiquitous tea shop Teavana), to eradicate what ails those around her.
And for whom does Rachel brew her potions? This English-Italian enchantress first puts her cousin Ambrose (Sam Claflin), sent to Italy to bake a tumor out of his brain, under her spell. After Ambrose’s suspicious death, Rachel then visits his ward and nephew Philip, also played by Sam Claflin, on Ambrose’s estate near the cliffs of Cornwall.
Despite Philip’s intentions to treat Rachel cruelly as payback for his uncle’s tortured death and warnings about her unnaturally libidinous nature, he too is quickly and easily charmed by her. After much effort to safeguard his uncle’s estate, Philip ends up signing it over to her without much of an investigation into the unsavory leads about her past. But then immediately regrets it.
If Philip’s motives seem contradictory and erratic, it’s because they are. Du Maurier terrorizes not with narrative but with mood and atmosphere. Doubt and paranoia are her favorite weapons, and under the direction of Hitchcock (Rebecca, The Birds) and Nicolas Roeg (Don’t Look Now), her stories have become the source of nightmares, if not recognized phobias.
However, Michell hasn’t cast enough suspicion on Rachel to create the necessary doubt to maintain the sense of Gothic suspense. For all the black veils, musty rooms and eroding cliffs, the emotion here has been limited to Philip’s anger after he’s rebuffed by Rachel. Even the girl next door (Holliday Grainger), purposely set up to be the opposite of Rachel and to want her to be the villain, understands that Philip is acting from selfish lust. This makes Philip just another nice guy mad that he hasn’t gotten what he’s owed after making the grand gesture. And it’s that, and not Rachel’s tea, that will leave a bitter taste in your mouth.