IF IT'S BEEN AWHILE since you spent any time with the Brontës, there's one thing you need to keep in mind when watching Cary Fukunaga's new adaptation of Jane Eyre: From a plot standpoint, Jane Eyre is completely, intrinsically ridiculous. Further, it's a story that suffers from translation to film: In order to swallow Jane's woes-to-riches tale, it helps to be able to dog ear the page and pause between revelations of secret wives, tubercular schoolgirls, long-lost relatives, and surprise inheritances.
The newest adaptation of Charlotte Brontë's oft-adapted book embraces the gothic sensationalism of its source material, playing it straight and spooky, with nary a wink to the audience. Wind and rain whip across the moors, rooms are lit only by candle, and Fukunaga throws in a few good old-fashioned jump scares, just because he can. (It's worth noting that Fukunaga previously directed the nerve-wracking Sin Nombre, i.e., "that movie about Mexican gang members with scary face tattoos.") It's this commitment to Jane Eyre's gothic side that keeps the film from straying into camp, and keeps it fundamentally entertaining even as it tears through that goofy story: orphan Jane's heartless aunt, her hellish boarding school, her post as a governess where she meets the almost comically virile Mr. Rochester (Michael Fassbender), and learns his deep, dark secret.
Jane is played by Mia Wasikowska, a pretty girl who passes for plain with the help of some extremely unflattering hairstyles. Wasikowska—who previously played Alice in Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland, and the daughter in The Kids Are All Right—lends the role a dreamy primness that's more Anne of Green Gables than Jane Eyre, and despite the impassioned speeches that handsome Mr. Rochester occasionally provokes her to give, it's not entirely plausible that she has an inner life. (For his part, Fassbender overacts with gusto, but he's so handsome that all is forgiven.) But it's a testament to Fukunaga's intelligent direction that even with a silly plot and lackluster Jane, his Jane Eyre is moodily, spookily enjoyable.