‘Don’t Look Now’ – An Occult-Tinged Rumination on Grief and the Unknown
If you so much as blink while watching “Don’t Look Now” you will have missed major plot points which occurred in that millisecond. I should know. I turned my head away for a second and something happened on screen and I was lost. Luckily, the film is of the type that it leads up to something. In this case that something is the fate of one of the main characters. Everything from point A to Point B is meant to lead us to that moment.
Legendary director Nicolas Roeg’s 1973 horror tale ‘Don’t Look Now’ remains an eerie meditation on grief and the occult, wrapped in a mystery thick with dread. After a married couple loses their daughter in a drowning accident, they attempt to restart their lives in Venice, only to become entangled in a sinister web of psychic premonitions, hauntings, and fateful misunderstandings.
Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland deliver nuanced performances as Laura and John Baxter, a mother and father undone by the raw pain of losing a child. When two sisters, one a psychic, claim to see their daughter happily with them in Venice, it stirs long-buried hopes and fears. Strange sightings and preternatural warnings follow, suggesting forces beyond understanding are at play.
With its winding canals and decaying grandeur, Venice becomes a liminal space between the living and the dead, the rational and paranormal. Roeg structures the film as a complex, fragmented puzzle, judiciously parceling out information and shielding the mystery until the shattering end. Each atmospheric piece feeds the couple’s obsession with unlocking truths beyond ordinary perception.
I must admit I had heard all sorts of good things about the film and was looking forward to seeing it. Having seen it I can honestly say that it is a very good film. My only complaint is that it moves a bit too slow and tends to be tedious at times. Besides that, though, it has a strong cast in Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie and excellent directing from Nicolas Roeg. The film is not only made to keep you guessing the entire time, but to make you think. You don’t see that very often in a horror film.
A profoundly intimate rumination on grief’s capacity to unmoor one’s sense of reality, ‘Don’t Look Now’ remains equal parts psychological thriller and spectral tone poem. Roeg steeps the viewer in unease with his temporal, sensory manipulations, proving emotional turmoil the most harrowing horror of all.
The famous sex scene between Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie was a last minute on-set idea from director Nicolas Roeg who felt that otherwise the film would have too many scenes of the couple arguing. Most of the scenes around it are improvised.
Renato Scarpa who plays inspector Longhi didn’t speak any English. He just read the lines he’d been given without knowing what they meant, which added to the sinister quality of his character.
Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie met for the first time on the set of this film. The first scene they had to shoot was the sex scene, as Roeg wanted to “get it out of the way” and then move on to the “bone” of the matter. Christie was terrified.