Don't Look Now (1973)
Director: Nicolas Roeg
Cast: Julie Christie, Donald Sutherland, Hilary Mason
Plot: A married couple grieving the recent death of their little daughter are in Venice when they encounter two elderly sisters, one of whom is psychic and brings a warning from beyond.
Genre: Drama / Horror
Awards: Won 1 BAFTA - Best Cinematography. Nom. for 5 BAFTAs - Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress, Best Film Editing, Best Original Score.
Rating: R21 for graphic sexuality and nudity, and some disturbing images.
IN RETROSPECT (Spoilers: NO)
“This one who's blind. She's the one that can see.”
Don’t Look Now is an underrated psychological horror-drama by Nicolas Roeg, whose breakthrough work Walkabout (1971) set the more-misses-than-hits cinematographer-turned-director on a run of films that include critical favourites like The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976) and Insignificance (1985).
Often mistakenly classified as a pure horror picture, Roeg's film is more of a psychological drama with elements of horror, in the same vein as films like Rosemary's Baby (1968) and The Sixth Sense (1999). Horror films are scary, but this is disquieting and quite chilling.
Starring Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie as the grieving couple John and Laura Baxter, whose daughter inexplicably drowned in a pond outside their home, the film follows them in Venice post-tragedy, where John is engaged to restore crumbling church monuments.
Venice is a mysterious location, full of old-world charm that hides a sinister presence. A water city essentially, the rivers that connect every nook and corner become obstacles for movement. At night, every dark walking street throws one into a labyrinth of narrow alleys, seemingly with no way out.
With this locale, Roeg masterfully captures a foreboding spirit. Venice is a character in itself, as if harbouring a supernatural force; it also hides a serial killer on the loose, thus doubling up the intrigue and mystery. Early in the film. John and Laura incidentally also meet two sisters, one of them a psychic.
All these plot points come together to create a sense of hallucinatory unease. It's one of those films that question the reality of things, bridging the natural and the supernatural, yet retaining a unique tonal quality that is firmly rooted in the sensorial and the psychological, of real-world linkages.
Infamous for the lengthy lovemaking scene between Sutherland and Christie that is perhaps one of the most beautiful montages of sexuality in cinema, Roeg's work is an example of great, juxtapositional editing, carrying forward a similar style evident in Walkabout.
Exploring themes of grief, faith and fear, Don't Look Now ends with a shocking climax that is every bit as haunting now as it probably was back in 1973. It is an image that reminds me of a particular character in David Lynch's Eraserhead (1977), made four years later.
Verdict: This masterfully-edited psychological drama with elements of horror is an excellent attempt at evoking a disquieting atmosphere.
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