I purchased this incredible 'psychic thriller' on DVD a short while ago, and of all the creep-horror-psychological suspense films I have watched in my life, 'Don't Look Now' is without question in the top three. 32 years later, this film still packs an incredible punch. Director Nicolas Roeg did an outstanding job.
This little known (in 2005, that is) yet critically acclaimed (this flim gains more attention and great reviews as time goes on) film ranks right up there with 'The Exorcist' and other notable films of the 'dark' genre. Definitely one of the best films I have ever seen. Actually, one of the reasons this gem has been hidden is the fact that it had the misfortune to be released just after 'The Exorcist', which overshadowed Roeg's masterpiece, then and now.
Out of 5 stars, I give 'Don't Look Now' * * * * *
Excerpts of reviews below compiled togther.
'Don't Look Now'
They've come to the ancient city of Venice, with its winding streets interwoven like some great Gothic maze punctuated with musty gray churches and canals where the water darkly glistens. After a bleak summer during which their little girl plunged into their backyard lake and drowned, they are spending the winter trying to forget and carry on with the rest of their lives.
Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie (both absolutely outstanding in their performances) play John and Laura Baxter, an ordinary married couple in their thirties. They still grieve the loss of their loved one, but are getting their lives back together. A vacation in the bleak midwinter might not seem an opportune time for healing, but John is committed to restoring the façades and statues of a cathedral undergoing restoration. Life goes on, or at least it seems to.
Fate plays a series of strange tricks on the Baxters. The opening scene with their little girl wrapped in a red raincoat doomed to follow her ball into the lake is punctuated with superstition and small premonitions of something that is sure to happen. A piece of glass shatters. One of John's slides showing a detail from one of his churches becomes stained with crimson. Are these warning signs or coincidence?
These uncanny moments of foresight follow them to Venice in the form of two British elderly sisters, one of them a blind medium. They claim that Laura's daughter is trying to communicate with her from beyond the grave. "She wants you to know that she's happy," the blind woman beams, but there are darker forecasts and warnings that John may be in terrible danger. At first, John doesn't believe these stories, but soon after, he notices a small figure in a red raincoat who roams the streets of Venice.
Cloaked in Mystery
Nicolas Roeg is careful not to play all his cards at once. The plot of 'Don't Look Now' is unfolded slowly and carefully, only providing enough information to keep us awaiting more. Is there something supernatural at work here, or an elaborate prank? Could their daughter be attempting to warn them of danger, or are two strangers leading John and Laura into a trap? Do the series of murders have anything to do with this story, or are they completely unrelated?
We can never be too sure exactly where we stand, since things are not always what they seem. The obscure camera angles are often from unusual low angles or unpredictable places, keeping the viewer in some strange limbo as the characters attempt to sift through the mystery and find themselves submerged in a dread difficult to put their finger on.
Often, nothing overtly supernatural is going on but Roeg maintains our feeling of unease by dwelling on John and Laura as they search through the winding streets or meet vaguely sinister strangers who barely emote. The sounds of water and wind are often heard in the background, drifting in and out as though reminders of their daughter's fate.
The film is beautifully shot by Anthony Richmond, who chooses to keep his color palette limited, all chilly hues. Some shots are allowed to linger, such as the moment when Donald Sutherland pulls his daughter from the water, moaning in agony. Roeg gives his grieving parents their due, held in a painfully drawn-out shot of the grieving father rolling around in the mud, trying to give CPR to his little girl.
Roeg's genius especially lies in his editing collaboration with Grame Clifford, who knows how to insert shots from previous scenes to serve as clues or disturbing reminders. One of the more famous sequences is the poignant and erotic hotel love scene between Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie, which cuts back and forth between their passionate limbs entwined on the bed and getting dressed to go out in post-coital bliss. Rarely has sex been handled on-screen with such genuine rigor and passion, perhaps because it feels like the sex adults have—unforced and sincere, genuine and sensitive. It's remarkably free of the gloss and glimmer of most screen couplings.
What's more, the scenes in which they get dressed add an extra layer of familiarity and warmth to the scene. It's a scene from the film that gets ample discussion whenever the film is brought up, because it's an important moment, a sense of connection between a husband and wife recovering from a trauma. Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie should be commended for their courage and willingness to shoot such a personal moment.
The Grieving Parents
'Don't Look Now' is truly like a horrific hall of mirrors, one that casts so many reflections that our heroes grow lost in the mystery. Roeg keeps it ambiguous, not telling the audience what to think. Like all great horror films, the reason it all feels so creepy is because our imagination makes it so. What is happening to John and Laura Baxter is as precise and clear yet as claustrophobic and unexplainable as the strange case of 'The Blair Witch Project', yet much better scripted and performed.
The reason we go deeper into Roeg's labyrinth is our genuine empathy for John and Laura. The choice of actors couldn't be better. Wonderfully eccentric Donald Sutherland is always a welcome presence in any film, and his lived-in, slightly baffled screen persona in the ''70s is ideally suited to this material. His offbeat sensibility made him ideal for paranoid thrillers like this and 'Invasion of the Body Snatchers'.
Julie Christie is wonderfully expressive and open in her performance, a well of emotions that never seems to veer into the hysterics and melodrama common in so-called "great acting." Whether having a dinner with John where she's hiding her maternal grief, or expressing her wonder at having made contact with her daughter, Christie is always in the moment and wholly believable.
A Disorienting Masterpiece
This film is difficult to classify. Is it a horror movie, a mystery, a psychological thriller, or an elaborate shaggy-dog story? Whatever you choose to name it, it's first class storytelling with a sense of the unknown filtering the air. Based on a wonderfully eerie short story by Daphne Du Maurier, Nicolas Roeg culled her story into one of the finest movies to emerge from the 70's— it remains a gleefully disorienting masterpiece.
'Don't Look Now' remains essential viewing, as is evidenced from its theatrical rerelease last year. The audience in the theater was appropriately stunned by the shocking conclusion, which is as violent as it is inevitable. For those who marveled at another story about mediums who saw dead people (a story that, like this one, offered something of a surprise in the final reel), you should rent 'Don't Look Now' and treat yourself to a hair-raising shocker that had this critic completely stunned.
Effective enough as a chiller in its own right, with Roeg of course it all goes so much deeper, acting as a labyrinthine but none the less moving and perceptive mediation on loss, love, and the indefinable nature of time itself. As if piecing together an intricate puzzle, key motifs constantly recur: the colour red, shattered glass, water, until their ultimate meaning is finally revealed to horrifying effect.
It's truly one of those "Oh my God" moments when you're amazed, horrified, and tingles go up and down your spine at the same time. That's only one of the reasons 'Don’t Look Now remains one of my favorite tales of unspoken dread.