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Don’t Look Now, 1973 – Movie Review – 31 Days of Horror

Posted by LiveFor on October 22, 2009

480_dontlookDirector: Nicolas Roeg
Starring: Donald Sutherland, Julie Christie, Hilary Mason

This great review for a classic film is by Mari Walker of the excellent Supermaw site –all part of my 31 Days of Horror.

Send me your horror film reviews.

I first encountered Don’t Look Now in my early teens, and it was love at first watch.

I had always been a fan of horror, but till then my experiences had been limited to standard examples of the genre. I had seen plenty of in your face horror, video nasties, blood strewn Hammer Horror and traditional creature features, but I wasn’t sure what to expect from Nicolas Roeg’s film. Within minutes I knew that Don’t Look Now was different. It wasn’t trying to scare the pants of you in every scene. Instead it builds up slowly, forcing you care about the characters, showing real grief and drama, not just teenagers being slashed by psychopaths or busty maidens being stalked by Dracula. That’s not to say it isn’t scary. While it might initially seem low on gore and monsters, the absence of constant scares only serves to heighten the tension, creating a world we can believe in, making it all the more frightening when that world becomes dark and menacing.

The film opens with Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie in a homely scene, a husband and wife working and reading in their country home, while their children play outside. In between these seemingly mundane shots we see their young daughter playing with a ball, while her brother rides his bike nearby, her bright red plastic mac glinting in the sunlight, bringing colour into this otherwise muted intro. As the scene unfolds we switch back and forth between the young couple and their daughter, playing closer and closer to the water then, almost inevitably, the ball and the child become drawn into the deep water.

Back inside Sutherland has been studying a slide of a church he is due to work on. He notices what seem to be a strange figure in a red hood in the image, which seems to seep the image with blood after he spills some water. He is then suddenly and inexplicably overcome with panic. He stands up violently then runs outside, towards his daughter, but sadly arrives too late. We then witness the heartbreaking scene of him clutching the wet and lifeless body of his daughter, unable to hide his pure misery from his scared young son. Although the characters have barely spoken, this dramatic introduction has dragged us straight into the couple’s lives, and we already feel great sympathy for them after witnessing such an awful accident.

The next scene of the film takes place a short time in the future, and we quickly gather that the couple are in Venice, combining a trip abroad with church restoration work that Sutherland is undertaking. Although they initially seem happy, we are unable to forget their earlier tragedy, which tinges everything with sadness. The tension soon bubbles to the surface, resulting in arguments as Christie expresses her desire to reconnect with her daughter after meeting an unusual pair of sisters, one of whom is blind yet claims the ability to communicate with the dead. They are clearly both still deeply upset and angry about their loss, but the differences in how they deal with this pain creates obvious divisions between them.

As a contrast to all the tension and unhappiness, we are now treated to what has to be one of the best sex scenes in modern cinema. The commitment the actors give to this performance has led to many claims that they did in fact commit the act. I suspect this has more to do with the quality of the film making and acting than the content, as it isn’t shockingly graphic or erotic. It’s just a very genuine and un-rushed depiction of a couple enjoying a good time. Once again Roeg edits this in an unusual way, this time switching to mundane shots of them getting ready to go out between shots of them having sex. As unusual as this scene might seem, it serves a valuable purpose (beyond getting Julie Christie naked), as it reminds us that they are a young couple who are still in love, despite all the misfortune in their lives.

Okay, so far we have some great film making, a shocking death and a few spooky moments, but what about the horror? It isn’t initially obvious why, but somehow the film manages to convey a menacing and somewhat spooky feel, even when there is no obvious danger. As they are in Venice they are inevitably surrounded by water, which serves as a subtle yet constant reminder of their daughters watery demise. We are also made keenly aware of not just dampness, but also a level of dank claustrophobia and unexplainable fear. This is illustrated perfectly by the disoriented couple as they lose their way in the dark, deserted streets.

As the story unfolds the ever present sense of danger is heightened by news reports of a series of vicious murders, Sutherland being involved in a near death accident, his wife collapsing and the repeated appearance of the pair of elderly British sisters. All these strange elements then start to come together, plunging Sutherland from disbelief into a state of panic as he begins to fear for the safety of his wife. Reality becomes blurred as he is haunted by impossible images, premonitions and visions of a child in a familiar red mac. He is frightened, yet compelled to seek out the truth behind these visions, which draws him towards a fate that he has unknowingly glimpsed. The twists in the plot, along with the heightened sense of fear and confusion, combine into a riveting, scary and moving conclusion to this brilliant film.

I have watched this film many times, and always enjoy it, as there are so many great elements too appreciate. The beautiful yet eerie surroundings, lovely muted style, the relationship and tensions between the characters and the confusion and mystery of the plot, all combine to make an outstanding film. This film offers plenty of intellectual stimulation for film buffs , suspense and drama that should engage any intelligent viewer, and plenty of tense, creepy and jump out of your skin scary moments to please even the most hardcore horror fans. I can also guarantee that watching this film will change the way you look at small children in red coats forever.

Previous 31 Days of Horror reviews: Snoop Dogg’s Hood of Horror, Christine, Pontypool, Diary of the Dead, Doctor Terror’s House of Horror, Wrong Turn 3, Zoltan Hound of DraculaHome Movie, The ThingVamp, Audition, The Fury, Blood Feast, Paranormal Activity, Braindead, Halloween, Friday the 13th Part 2, Martin, Fright Night, Zombieland

One Response to “Don’t Look Now, 1973 – Movie Review – 31 Days of Horror”

  1. […] info and reviews on the brilliant LiveForFilms site, being sure to check out my own review of Don’t Look Now . Finally, for a list of great b-movies check out acwe, a great blog site created by my own geeky […]

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