Starring Julie Christie, Donald Sutherland, Hilary Mason, Clelia Matania, Massimo Serato, Renato Scarpa, Giorgio Trestini, Leopoldo Trieste
Directed by Nicolas Roeg
Expectations: Very high.
Don’t Look Now is definitely a horror film, but outright calling it such creates a general expectation that it’s similar to other horror movies. It’s not. Even thriller is a bad genre designation, as the pace is much too slow without much that provides genuine thrills. But psychological thriller fits Don’t Look Now a lot better, as nearly every moment of the film engages the mind, usually on multiple levels simultaneously. The film carries an air of foreboding doom for its characters, remaining creepy and unsettling right down to its final frame. It’s definitely not a film for everyone, but for those willing to sit with it, Don’t Look Now delivers the goods.
The film begins with the children of John (Donald Sutherland) and Laura (Julie Christie) playing in the woods beyond their house. The filmmaking foreshadows that something disastrous is about to occur, and the psychological elements immediately creep in. Meanwhile, John is inside the house examining slides of church windows. He becomes preoccupied with a red-jacketed figure in the church’s pews, all the while his daughter plays outside in a red rain slicker amidst the ominous camera of director Nicholas Roeg.
Don’t Look Now is full of these kinds of mental connections made through editing, and it is through them that the film gains much of its power. These ingenious cuts insert us directly into the characters’ minds, and as they delve deeper into their psychological terror, so do we. The inspired editing choices also help Don’t Look Now seem far less aged than it is; the film is still spry 41 years later. A lot of these editing choices are somewhat abstract and a bit unsettling, which paints the perfect mental landscape to experience this story, but I also imagine it distances the movie from a lot of viewers. If there’s a reason that a great movie like this isn’t talked about all that much, this is my guess for why.
What no one can dispute is the foreboding beauty and pervasive power of the film’s location shooting in Venice, Italy. It’s an amazing atmospheric benefit, adding immensely to the old-world terror and visual beauty of the film. The cinematography captures the city’s beautiful aging architecture, as well as its shadowy back allies, to create a perfect mood for the strange occult nature of the story to take root and grow.
As John and Laura interact with the Venice locals, the Italian dialogue is never subtitled, further adding to the fear of who and what’s just around the corner. It’s clear that John understands and speak some Italian, but Laura seems to be only along for the ride. But regardless, for the most part they are fish out of water and the lack of subtitles showcases this, while also adding yet another element that allows the audience to sink deeper into the mind’s of the characters. Unless you speak Italian, of course! And speaking of Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie, they are absolutely great together. The create an on-screen marriage brimming with passion and reality. They feel like a couple, and their controversial sex scene feels exceptionally raw and shocking for 1973.
Don’t Look Now is a fantastic film that manages to marry horror and artistic elements in ways rarely seen. If you like ’70s film and psychological horror, Don’t Look Now is a must see.