Review: “Don’t Look Now” (1973)

Director: Nicholas Roeg
Screenplay: Allan Scott, based on a short story by Daphne du Maurier
Starring: Donald Sutherland, Julie Christie, Hilary Mason, Clelia Matania

SPOILERS WITHIN

Nicholas Roeg’s 1973 release “Don’t Look Now” is an atypical horror film that forces the audience to defy its title, for fear that they may miss a crucial detail. Nearly every shot, scene and sequence contains clues that may (or may not) be important to the film’s ending. Roeg purposely confuses and misleads his viewers so that the conclusion comes as even more of a surprise than it could have turned out to be. The film also explores the way a typical family deals with and functions after the loss of a child.

The story opens with the death of Christine (Sharon Williams), young daughter to John (Sutherland) and Laura (Christie) Baxter. While trying to retrieve her ball from the pond behind the Baxter home, Christine drowns, while wearing a bright red-colored raincoat. It is at this point that the color red begins to play an increasingly larger role in the film, appearing in a variety of instances that may offer clues to the film’s grand mystery.

Soon after this tragedy, John and Laura travel Venice where John is working on a church restoration. During lunch one afternoon, Laura encounters two sisters, Heather (Mason) and Wendy (Matania), one of whom is a blind seer. Heather, the psychic sister, tells Laura that Christine’s spirit is still with the Baxter family, but also that John may be in danger. John believes that the women are phonies and he violently insists to Laura that Christine is dead and that Laura should let her go.

However, John becomes obsessed with a small, red-coated figure running through the narrow alleys of Venice that seems to resemble Christine. His pursuit of the figure, coupled with his ignorance of Heather’s warning, leads to the film’s shocking and somewhat confusing finale. The red-coated figure turns out to be an evil-looking dwarf who stabs and murders John.

Roeg uses a variety of visual cues and heavy foreshadowing to give the audience clues about the film’s conclusion. In addition to the color red, water plays a major role in “Don’t Look Now”. Broken glass is also used as a signal of a significant event in the plot. A painting in the two sisters’ hotel room foreshadows the end of the film: The painting, depicting three women surrounding a child, resembles the end of the film where only Laura, the two sisters, and the Baxters’ son Johnny are left at John’s funeral. Most creepily, a stone gargoyle at the church John is restoring bears more than a passing resemblance to the dwarf that kills him.

“Don’t Look Now” also presents a realistic portrayal of a family coping with the loss of a child. John and Laura’s reactions to Christine’s death, ranging from anger to joy upon learning that Christine is still with them, all feel like appropriate responses to the loss of a child. At the start of the film John seems to be coping well, but Laura is having a more difficult time losing her daughter. After Laura meets with the sisters, the roles slowly reverse: John begins to fall apart in his obsession with the red-coated figure, revealing that he’s had an equally difficult time with Christine’s drowning.

Roeg effectively created a horror film that breaks from typical horror film elements. There are few shocks and no gore; instead, Roeg relies on suspense and setting to disturb his audience. The late fall/early winter setting in an increasingly claustrophobic Venice has more of a powerful impact than cheap thrills and bloodshed. The solid acting, especially from Sutherland and Christie, is equally effective in setting and maintaining the chilling tone in a masterpiece of horror cinema.

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2 Responses to “Review: “Don’t Look Now” (1973)”

  1. This movie fucking sucked. It sucked big time.

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