Gothic Horror Returns to Modern Day
The indie horror film The Yellow Wallpaper (2022), which debuted on screen at the 2021 Cinequest Film Festival, is officially available on digital services as of March 29th, 2022. A modern adaptation of Charlotte Perkins Gillman’s gothic horror story “The Yellow Wallpaper” published in 1892, the film follows the life of a young couple in the late 19th century and slowly shows the mental disintegration of Jane, the wife and mother in the story. Written and co-directed by filmmakers Alexandra Loreth and Kevin Pontuti who made their debut through this film, The Yellow Wallpaper does an amazing job at portraying the emotions felt by women during the time of publication of the original story, while providing modern cinematic tactics to terrorize the audience. Critics describe the film as “dark and disturbing” leaving audiences terrified for obvious reasons and showing that gothic horror still has a place in modern society.
The original story, “The Yellow Wallpaper,” is a gothic feminist horror novella that was considered extremely controversial at the time of its publication, leading to much discussion over its meaning, messages and reflection of society during the late 19th century, as well as women’s perceived roles by men and how women actually wanted to live. During the 19th century, society was extremely misogynistic. Women virtually had no rights to control their lives and were completely reliant on their husbands, fathers, or brothers for economic support, at least in the Western World. Unfortunately, this lead to many women being mistreated and their basic human rights being ignored. Women were expected to be homemakers, take care of their children, cook and clean, and provide emotional support to their husbands. However, when these expectations were not met, women oftentimes were seen as hysterical and mentally unstable. With mental health care basically being a prison for the mentally ill individuals at the time. Mental illness was perceived as controllable through various medical treatments that most would consider torture today. It was virtually impossible for mentally ill women to get the proper care and treatment needed to overcome the stresses that life provided to them.
This is directly reflected in the story of “The Yellow Wallpaper,” with Jane clearly having postpartum depression as modern healthcare officials would label it. At the time, this was not a known issue and was treated as hysteria on behalf of the men throughout the story and in real life. The author, Charlotte Perkins Gillman, suffered from postpartum depression herself and the doctors she dealt with in real life reflected the medical treatment readers see in “The Yellow Wallpaper.” Upon publication of the story, Gillman sent a copy to the doctor who prescribed the rest and isolation treatment, as a response to his medical advice.
In “The Yellow Wallpaper”, Jane is utterly and completely reliant on her husband, John, as he is not only her spouse but also her physician. Of course, by modern standards, physicians have no credible knowledge on mental illnesses but, as discussed, mental illness was not really taken seriously. In the story, John believes that Jane just needs some alone time and to rest. He prescribes her isolation, in a room with wallpaper that directly reflects her mental state. As the wallpaper disintegrates, so does her mental wellbeing. While the narrator, Jane, believes the room with the yellow wallpaper to be a nursery, it could have just as easily been a room to keep a mentally ill individual, which is the irony of the wallpaper itself throughout the story, reflecting both natures of the narrator. The situational irony throughout the story of the prescribed isolation that is supposed to “cure” the narrator is that this rest cure is exactly what makes her slip into psychosis. John encourages her to rest and sleep during the day to cure her from intrusive thoughts, which just causes her to stay awake all night and stare at the wallpaper that makes her go insane.
Unfortunately, isolation is often the last thing a mentally ill individual needs, as it leaves them alone with intrusive thoughts they cannot get rid of. This is highlighted throughout the story; as Jane becomes more obsessed with the yellow wallpaper and what possibly lays underneath it, she slips more into psychosis and depression. There are several themes within the short story that directly reflect the lives of women during this time, from women’s role in the home and marriage, to identity and self expression of these women, or lack thereof. Throughout the story, the narrator (Jane) is prevented from expressing herself in a healthy manner. She loves to write however, her husband disapproves, therefore she is not allowed to. Her inner thoughts which she journals are hidden away like a sin from her husband, making the association between women’s personal expression and deception. She continually forces herself to be happy, which is common not only among women today, but several mentally ill individuals. She wants to live up to her husband’s expectations which really reflects society’s expectations.
While the feminist perspective of the story is directly highlighted throughout it, some may wonder how it is considered a gothic horror story. From the old, run down house that is a large manor with secret passages and hallways to the mysterious atmosphere created throughout the story, it follows the gothic genre almost to a tee. The unexplained visions and ghostly encounters that the narrator experiences are the main aspects of the story that makes it fall under the gothic horror category. While modern horror has steered away from gothic horror for the most part, it still has a heavy impact on the genre in general. Influences of gothic horror in modern day can be seen in classic horror films such as The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1921) and shows like Scooby Doo, Where Are You?, which was originally released in the 1960s. However, monsters and ghosts will continue to frighten people even today, which is why it’s refreshing to have a film under this genre.
“The Yellow Wallpaper” is one of the most important and relevant feminist works of literature ever published and is still extremely important considering the perceptions that society continues to place on women. At the time, the story was seen as extremely controversial, and writing about how women felt was considered “dangerous” by the male dominated society. It is a must read by anyone who likes psychological horror and feminist works in general, as well as those who are attracted to gothic horror, which the new film adaptation presents beautifully. The Yellow Wallpaper is available for rent or purchase on digital services.
The Yellow Wallpaper (2022) Official Trailer