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There are two types of horror films, really. There are popcorn horror
films, good for a cheap in-the-moment thrill at best, and there are
serious horror films, movies that linger in the mind and in the bones.
I have just watched Nicolas Roeg's 'Don't Look Now' and my spine is
frozen. It's 4am, I'm alone, and I have a heightened awareness of
sounds and sights I usually don't notice.
Here is a movie that's both resolved and unresolved, ultimately growing more ambiguous as it progresses and becomes more complex. After it is over and has become a complete(d) work to the eye of the viewer, the lasting impression is that of mystery. Too many films in this genre bark up the wrong tree, working to explain all of the events that unfold. By explaining nothing, by being almost abstract, questions and images will haunt the viewer indefinitely. It is what it is, and while this movie can be watched over and over, and the events that occur can be anticipated, they will forever remain an enigma. This is true cinema, purely visual and aural, without the helpful but ultimately self-defeating aid of a proxy observer; the viewer is the direct observer, and there's no filter through which the events and images develop any sort of tidy rationality.
Donald Sutherland's performance here is sober, adult, the grief of his character palpable. And in the face of this grief is a force that runs through the movie like a dark current, evoking the eternal and spookily ethereal and subterranean; less an eternity of the heavens than the eternity of a crypt. Venice is not merely the ideal location for this story, but the necessary location; it could not take place anywhere else. The unquestionable, and indeed imposing, Gothic majesty of the churches, whose interior height dwarfs their human occupants with the spiritual dread of the ancient, overlooks the canals of Venice like the wicked-faced stone gargoyles Sutherland finds himself physically embracing, while the canals that run through the city are literally the ghost of this couple's personal tragedy. Living in Venice, in light of the details surrounding their loss, seems almost a perverse choice, perhaps a masochistic one; they could be punishing themselves for their daughter's drowning by living in a flooded city.
It's not that Sutherland's character is a rational man in an irrational environment, but rather a rational man in an environment whose own secret code, which one may trust makes perfect sense to itself (like a tree in the forest that will only fall if no one is around to hear), is inaccessible and inexplicable to him, baring itself only in fragments in a way he chooses to ignore, just as you might ignore a spectral voice in the dead of night, dismissing it as a product of your imagination.
The movie's notorious love scene is jarringly explicit, yet rather than erotic, it is profoundly sad, and takes on a deeper (even creepy) resonance after the film ends. That the scene is intercut with scenes of Sutherland and Julie Christie dressing prevents the two from ever being completely naked and united; this editing choice changes the dimensions of the love scene in a way that I've never seen attempted elsewhere. At other points, Roeg inserts moments and images that carry sinister implications, none of which are ever concretely substantiated and only leave the viewer with more questions.
The film drifts along at a wandering pace. The final twenty minutes are among the most atmospheric and suspenseful twenty minutes in any film, culminating in a montage that is absolutely chilling.
'The Blair Witch Project,' made over two decades later and probably influenced by this, has similar aspirations, but finally has only a fraction of the emotional gravity.
People want and expect different things from movies. What engages and
captivates one person can just as easily displease and repulse another (see
Titanic). Sometimes, a film simply doesn't register beyond the viewer's
walk/drive home (this criminal offense is not exclusively a phenomenon of
the 1990s in spite of the last decade's distinct dearth of memorable films).
Don't Look Now, however, is a film which cannot fail to last long in the
It is easy to love the film for its rare depth of character, its beautiful yet disturbing plot, the stunning Venice setting, the tender and original love scene or just for Donald Sutherland's never-rivalled wig! I am sure, however, that people find it easy to fault the film because it doesn't neatly tie up loose ends, because it is dark and depressing (the film's extensive reach encompasses death, loss, murder, blindness, religion and dwarfism) and because film-making conventions are abandoned.
The source material of Du Maurier's short story provides only a meagre framework onto which screenwriters Scott and Bryant have fleshed a stunning adaptation. Roeg's visual and emotional style of directing has never been so perfectly showcased as in Don't Look Now. How many more times can film-makers and advertisers steal (or "pay homage to") Roeg's ingenious work? Julie Christie is luminous and pulls the viewer with her through Laura's painful journey after the film's shocking opening. Sutherland's performance is stellar as well. His character, John, is like a Hitchcockian fall-guy with real personality and depth. You are swept along through the canals and narrow avenues with him as Pino Donaggio's stirring music both chills and lulls.
Films made in the tone of Don't Look Now are so rare these days. I am not an old fuddy-duddy who complains that "they don't make 'em like they used to" but am simply a slightly disillusioned film fan who wishes there were just a few more film-makers willing to take chances and not follow the dull formulaic line. What was the last film that stayed with you long after you saw it? It always sounds like a cliche when some obsessed fan tells you a film haunted them for days but Don't Look Now has a curious effect on the viewer. Its intensity grows. Different parts of the film mull around in your mind. You don't think about individual 'scenes' from the film either, you think about the situations, the people, the feelings. All of which is testament to the roundly drawn characterisation and elegant (yet not contrived) structure of the film.
If you haven't seen Don't Look Now before then you have a treat awaiting you. If you have seen it - see it again and marvel at a profound, eery, haunting, moving and beautiful film. If it disappoints you that films of such indelible and recurring substance like this are thin on the ground (Apocalypse Now, Taxi Driver and The Conversation had similar effects on me) then do not hesitate to picket the next showing of....(OUT OF RESPECT TO IMDB'S CONTENT GUIDELINES I WON'T NAME TITLE OF MORONIC HOLLYWOOD BLOCKBUSTERS AND THE LIKE)!
I was afraid to swallow, to make any noise. The unspeakable was all around me and I lived it up to the fullest. Nicolas Roeg plays with our instincts, with our inner voices and challenge us to take notice. Just like Donald Sutherland's character. He knows, even if his brain tells him not to be stupid. To believe is to commit intellectual suicide. Better not to look, not to listen. Sutherland and Christie are one of the most convincing modern artistic yet normal married couples in their pain in their every daily detail. Sutherland goes along with Christie's "nonsense" because he sees what the nonsense does for her. They make love for the first time since their daughter's death in a way we've never seen before on the screen and, probably, never will again. Based on a Daphne Du Maurier's book, Nicolas Roeg has orchestrated a chilling work of art. For film lovers all over the world, if you haven't seen it, do, preferably in the dark with someone you know and love.
"Don't Look Now" was released at about the time of "The Excorcist". There is
otherwise no basis for comparison between these movies. While the Excorcist
hits us in the face with the equivalent of a special effects rubber chicken,
"Don't Look Now" manages to get under your skin from the very first scene,
and gradually, elegantly insinuates itself into a place where your childhood
and adult fears dwell and steep. Its setting in Venice is both beautiful and
menacing. Something terrible is always just around the corner from our
conscious mind. It is also troubling, and, as only a good movie can, leaves
more questions unanswered than resolved. Without a doubt, it contains one of
the most beautiful loves scenes ever filmed, showing scenes of Christie and
Sutherland in genuinely erotic (by '70's standards) lovemaking, mixed with
scenes of the couple as they dress and prepare for their day, the following
morning. Director Nicolas Roeg is a forgotten Master.
The Italian title of this Nicolas Roeg's classic is "A Venetian Shocking Red December" yep. I had seen this film dubbed into Italian, years ago. I was taken by the look and the atmosphere I remember being unnerved but I was appalled by the acting, specially Julie Christie's - one of my favorites of all time. Yesterday I saw the film again in its original English version. My goodness, what a difference! The film is even more frightening that I remembered. The atmosphere is asphyxiating. You can actually smell the rotting stench of the most beautiful city in the world. The ending leaves you breathless and the acting, well, listening to the actors real voices is another experience altogether. The pain and sudden burst of hope in Julie Christie is moving, very moving and very unsettling. Sutherland, as usual, is magnificent. The film, other than a solid cult status, remains virtually unknown by the public at large. "Don't Look Now" is a buried treasure that is bound to be re discovered and to all my countrymen, a piece of advise: avoid dubbed movies at all cost.
I think it is bad luck that "Don't Look Now" was released in the same
year as "The Exorcist", or else this might be a better known and more
appreciated one of a kind masterpiece.
"Don't Look Now" is an horror movie but not one like you would expect it to be. It isn't a movie that scares you with some scene's, it is a movie that gets into you and just won't let go and builds up a nightmare like tension. The atmosphere is fantastic and gives the movie a haunting feeling. Venice really works as the perfect backdrop for this movie. The best movie set in Venice ever? Even though there aren't any scary sequences in the movie, the ending is really horrifying, it really freaked me out the first time I saw it, I think 5 years ago. On my second viewing, not too long ago I was prepared for the ending but it still was a very scary thing to watch!
The storytelling might seem slow but it works perfect for the movie and its tension. There are some brilliant moments in the movie that all come together once the ending approaches. The editing and cinematography are perfect, as are the performances by the cast.
And what is a decent comment without mentioning the famous love scene? Ah yes, the love scene, it really is one of the best love scene's ever. It is brilliantly filmed and even more brilliantly edited. Quite Stylish, as is the entire movie.
This classic masterpiece certainly deserves more recognition!
We've all seen it before: the 'horror' movie where someone's lost a loved
one, suddenly their ghost starts popping up, and the desperate search to
to the bottom of it ensues. Director Nicholas Roeg took a story somewhat
like that, based on a short story by Rebecca author Daphne DuMaurier, and
successfully proved that it doesn't always have to be like that. Don't
Now is a nearly-forgotten film from the 70's by a nearly-forgotten
(I believe this is the only one of his handful of great films that's on
DVD), and after watching the film, I realize it's a damn shame.
As Don't Look Now opens, we see a placid little pond, and disjointed, dreamy editing and cinematography that combine to form an unsettling scene of two kids playing. A young boy is riding around on his bike, and a little girl in a red mackintosh is frolicking around. We then see the parents of the children, John and Laura Baxter (Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie), sitting comfortably inside by the fire. Something is wrong, though. The film's editing style eerily merges the slowly mouting events outside with the warmth of the interior. The boy's bike hits some glass and John's drink crashes on the table. Before we know it, the Baxter's daughter has plunged into the pond and the Baxters are left with a dead daughter.
Fast-forward to some unknown time in the near future, and the Baxters are in Venice, where John is restoring a church that he quite quickly discovers is an architectural fraud. One day in a restaurant, Laura is encounted by a mysterious, psychic, blind woman who assures her that her daughter is 'happy.' Laura tells her husband this, but John is a staunch non-believer in things of the sort, and in a tender, wonderfully-edited scene, the Baxters make love.
The love scene in Don't Look Now is notorious for those familiar with it. Being quite graphic, it was trimmed a bit for an R rating in the US, but even by today's standards, it's quite surprising. There's a catch, though - Roeg's film intercuts their frenzied sex with a scene of them dressing afterwards and leaving for dinner (most notably paid tribute to in Steven Soderbergh's Out of Sight, much tamer, but edited in a similar fashion). Why? It is at once the most frustrating, and greatest, thing about Don't Look Now.
The film contains a numerous amount of plot strands: a mysterious figure in a red coat (who may or may not be the ghost of the Baxter's daughter) begins to appear around Venice, dead bodies are being found in the canals, the killer's on the loose, and the blind prophet continually warns of John's pending danger. What connects them all? Well, one can't really be sure until the end of the film, and that's where Don't Look Now nearly stumbles.
In Roger Ebert's review of the film, he comments on how successfully the movie builds up tension and how disappointing the film's
climax is, but I felt the opposite. Not that much happens in the movie until its final, bloody, climax. What is important, though, is that every little thing that happens in the film has something to do, in some creepy, abstract way with the film's finale. I found myself immensely frustrated by the middle stretch of the movie, because not much makes sense for a while. Don't worry, though, because director Roeg doesn't offer some neat tie-up of all the loose ends of the film; he simply offers a suggestion to the viewer. The question is: is the suggestion he offers good enough to redeem the complete puzzle that the movie is before it? I'm going to go with 'yes,' for the film doesn't ground itself firmly in reality, thereby allowing some slack in how lucid the ending must be. In fact, it seems somewhat like a dream the whole way through (don't worry, I don't think it is).
What is the point of Don't Look Now, and why should you watch it? Well, Don't Look Now proves that there may be more 'future' in our present than we think... All of the plot strands seem to occur at odd, disjointed times in the film, and it's up to us to decide what's important. Yes, we do find out who the killer is, but don't expect some easy resolution in the perplexing amalgam that the film is. In fact, Roeg lets two plot strands of the movie converge in its conclusion. I was immensely impressed by Don't Look Now, for the device of 'who's the killer' is actually put to some interesting use. I think I know what the movie suggests, but there's so much there that it requires a second viewing. If not a second, you should at least give it one, but be prepared to be confused .
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Don't Look Now comes in for undeserved criticism from people who think that
horror movies should be gore-fests. Anyone who truly appreciates the art of
horror will recognise this film for what it is: a classic. The atmosphere in
this film is incredible for many reasons: Pino Donaggio's haunting score,
the wintry Venice location work, the fragmented and thoughtful editting, and
the perfect performances. Add to that the most unforgettable twist ending
ever filmed (to date, anyway) and you're looking at a tremendous
Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie play a couple who go to Venice to recover from the traumatic death of their daughter (she drowned in a pond at the bottom of their garden). They keep seeing a small red-coated figure wandering around the canals, and Sutherland convinces himself that it may be the spirit of his daughter trying to make contact from the other side. However, when he confronts the red-coated figure he is in for one hell of a shock....
Nicholas Roeg's film is a masterpiece. It can be viewed over and over again and with each new viewing it throws up new surprises and possibilities. An enigmatic, haunting and multi-layered treat, Don't Look Now is not to be missed.
Don't Look Now was clearly ahead of its time. In 1973, psychological movies
such as this were either rare, or basic.
Don't Look Now attempts to go where a lot of movies had never been, which
was a realm where many things never truly make sense and yet behind it all
is a coherent purpose.
First of it is *not* a candidate for greatest horror film ever, though the Times would have you believe otherwise. What it *is* though is a highly confusing yet thought-provoking story which covers grief and dillusion in equal measure.
Donald Sutherland plays John Baxter, who's married to Laura, who lose a child in an accident and find their worlds turned upside-down as a result. However, thereafter the story is set in Venice where John's working on a job and Laura's accompanied him there, and where things start to get disturbing for the couple as events begin to focus on their dead daughter and paranormal themes emerge.
It *is* a strange tale, and ultimately what you get out of it is entirely up to you. It is probably from this film that the likes of David Lynch started to derive inspiration.
Overall, good, if intrinsically confusing.
Don't Look Now is a strange horror film in that it doesn't rely on the
usual horror genre staples in order to be successful. Rather than be
gratuitous on the gore, atmosphere and shocks front, Don't Look Now
simply presents it's story and the horror almost seems like an
afterthought. Usually, films like this annoy me because they obviously
want to portray the horror, but skirt around it in order to not be put
in with the less intelligent offerings from the genre; but this one
clearly cares about it's story and characters, and never really sets
out to scare. The film, therefore, comes off as being assured and well
handled throughout, and even though the plot is slow; the film can
never be described as boring because there's always enough bubbling
under the surface of the immediate goings on in order to keep the
viewers' interest. The plot is shrouded with mystery and follows a
father who finds his daughter drowned in a nearby lake. He and his wife
then move to picturesque Venice, but the memory of their daughter
cannot be laid to rest after a blind psychic tells the woman that she
has seen her daughter may still be alive.
I love the horror genre, but I admit that a large proportion of it can't be compared among the true classics of cinema due largely to a lack of production values, good acting or a decent script that is coherent with the story and characters. Don't Look Now, however, often appears on film lists amongst the classics because this is one of the films that is strong in those areas. The acting is first rate, with Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie giving brilliant brooding performances that are in line with their characters and the film's plot. Sutherland can be something of a one-note actor, but when a performer is given the right material it allows them to shine and his role in this film fits him like a glove. One of the main compliments that this film gets is the cinematography, as the film expertly captures the beauty of it's central location. Venice's canals and dark alleys are as much a part of this film as the plot itself, and it is testament to Nicolas Roeg's directorial talent that this has been expertly captured in a way that helps the film. On the whole, this is a fine horror film that will be enjoyed by anyone that is willing to put time and effort into it. It's also worth noting that this film pays it's viewers at the climax with one of the best twist endings in the horror genre. Highly recommended!
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