Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Rosemary's Baby (1968) ****

Roman Polanski's eerie adaptation of Ira Levin's novel Rosemary's Baby is the ultimate Urban Gothic.  The unnerving post-60s sensibility relies solely on psychological horror: paranoia, treachery, and the perpetuation of evil all figure into the story.

Newlyweds Guy (John Cassavetes) and Rosemary (Mia Farrow) Woodhouse move into a luxurious new apartment building with a sordid history of witchcraft and bizarre crimes. Guy's a struggling actor desperate for a breakout role to launch his career.  Meanwhile their nosy neighbors the Castavets begin to intrude on their happy marriage.

When Rosemary discovers she's pregnant it becomes apparent no one is as they appear to be including Guy, her doctors, the Castavets, even the world itself.  Her only ally, the worldly Hutch (Maurice Evans), succumbs to the dark forces aligned around her.

The entire film is told from Mary's point of view.  Farrow plays her as naive, but never stupid. Her vulnerability adds to the sense of dread.

Polanski's direction feels claustrophobic, intrusive, yet chillingly realistic. A character study disguised as horror film.  

William Friedkin imitated the style for The Exorcist, only in that film we actually see the horror up close. Polanski never reveals the evil: we know it's there but cannot get a handle on it. Terrifying.

There's a sense of the old betraying the young to advance own nefarious agenda.  Evil never vanishes despite the best efforts of youth.

I won't even get into the odd coincidences that followed the release Rosemary's Baby, needless to say it makes one take pause, if you believe in that sort of thing. 

So next time you watch Rosemary's Baby, turn off the sound and put on the first Velvet Underground record to get you into the "let's get ready for the apocalypse" mood.

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