Let's say you're an obsessive keeper-upper with contemporary arthouse films. You've seen Andrea Arnold's Red Road and Fish Tank, then. You appreciate her deadpan naturalist approach to human misery, her sense of inevitability regarding the traps of life, the way she can mine even despair-filled surroundings for flashes of humor. And you can't in a million years figure out why she should be directing a new adaptation of Wuthering Heights.
That is, until you see it. Then it all makes perfect, modern sense. Gone from this, the umpteenth variation, is every wide-eyed gothic howl of romantic yearning, every lightning strike and shutter-clap during moments of heightened heartbreak, every idea contained in the black-corset-wearing Kate Bush song. These people live on the ground, they fall down in mud, they kick each other in the stomach. And everyone except Cathy treats Heathcliff (black in this version, an apparent fugitive from slavery) like a farm animal. Well, actually, come to think of it, she spits directly in his face when they first meet, so it's not exactly love at first sight for them, either. In any case, they speak with rough, grunty accents when they speak at all and their unhappiness is rarely announced with their own lips (the endless English country wind would swallow up the sound anyway). It's scattered across the running time, mirrored in shots of dying moths, bird carcasses, lamb slaughter, and dogs hanged from fences. Arnold likes to show more than she likes to tell and what she likes to show is pain.
Young Heathcliff (Solomon Grave), adopted into the hardscrabble (and often abusive) Earnshaw family, attaches himself to daughter Cathy (Shannon Beer) and the two become inseparable, traipsing up and down the hills and fields collecting dead animal bones and feathers as their physical desire for one another slowly emerges. They grow older and Cathy becomes engaged to the more well-to-do Edgar Linton. Heathcliff runs away, wounded, returning several years later as an adult (James Howson, cast by Arnold because he reminded her of a young Jimi Hendrix) and determined to get what he believes he's got coming. A traumatized Cathy (Kaya Scodelario) responds by dying.
So the blueprint of the story remains. But Arnold has peeled away the fancy layers built up by years of reverence and repetition and she's restored the cruelty. Her camera stays rough, intimately close up to nature, to details of wind-blown hair, to almost shocking scenes of the young lovers fumbling around in the wet, dark, earth (Cathy kisses and licks the blood from Heathcliff's wounds after he's whipped). She restores the gut-level agony that exists between two people who can't have each other and, told from Heathcliff's point of view, it becomes a document of alienation, one in which you're denied even the happy-ish ending of two ghost-lovers floating off together in the snow. You'll have to re-visit the 1939 Lawrence Olivier/Merle Oberon version if you're that kind of romantic.