1 Hr., 50 Mins.
Don't Look Now
There once was a time during which Laura (Julie Christie) and John Baxter (Donald Sutherland) were the heads of a blissful family. They were the parents of two darling little kids, the owners of a stunning country home, a prime example of a marriage gone right. But tragedy, like comedy, can enter one’s home without knocking on the front door first. On one misty Sunday afternoon, quiet, relaxing hours are turned into precursors of horror when the Baxters’ elementary-aged daughter, Christine (Sharon Williams), attempts to fetch the ball she dropped in the backyard’s pond only to slip and, without warning, drown. The bliss is now laced with fury; the two darling little kids are now one; the country home is now a place of trauma; and the marriage, once full of laughter and effortless comfort, though still intact, is very evidently now creased around the edges.
Some months pass, and Laura and John are now in the process of renovating a church in Venice. Grieving the loss of a child is an experience that never really ends, but the two are at the point where crying at every waking moment is no longer an option — a permanent pang has settled in their stomachs, never leaving even when moving on sounds a regrettable paradise. We can see that the Baxters are still very much in love. But it’s different, aching now. The labyrinthine design of Venice hardly lets them forget about the tumult at home.
The tug of the past pulls even harder one day, when, during lunch, a blind psychic (Hilary Mason) and her sister (Clelia Matania) cause a fuss in the restaurant, informing Laura that the source of the ruckus was due to the former’s sighting of Christine. For the first time in what feels like years, Laura’s incessant melancholy is replaced by bittersweet joy; John isn’t so trustworthy. But when he begins experiencing strange premonitions himself, including visions of a little girl wearing a red raincoat similar to Christine’s, he is forced to decode their meaning: are they yet another stage in his relentless grief, or is there something more ominous at play?
Nicolas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now is a horror film for the history books, at one moment a startling study of the effects of grief, in another a supernatural frightener that unsettles due to its lack of explanation. As viewers, we are inclined to track down missing pieces to the puzzle, especially perplexed by the twist ending that shocks just as much as it baffles. Roeg’s direction is impressively cryptic, Christie and Sutherland’s performances staggering in the way they are able to so convincingly appear as damaged people trying to recover from what made them so damaged in the first place.
But as much as I can appreciate the tremendous work done in Don’t Look Now, I appear to be one of the few immune to most of it. Though the ending is surely one of my favorite moments in horror history, I found myself appreciative of the tension constructed but never actually moved by it. I attempt to reach out and empathize as much as I can — yet there’s a feeling of inexplicable cold that I cannot grasp.
But Don’t Look Now is too good a film to outrightly lambast; while I am not a member of the understandable cult that consistently announces it as one of the finest horror movies ever made, it is still a remarkable film. It turns the love scene into an art rather than a gratuity. It cements red as a recurring color of malevolence in film. It revolutionizes the plot twist. It is an important film — I just wish I could connect to it the same way so much of the population already does. C+