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Seeing, feeling, sensing the fear.

  • Aug 17, 2012
**** out of ****

One of the most famous, critically popular, and influential cinematic evocations of the grieving process, Nicolas Roeg's "Don't Look Now" is heavenly for those who prefer genres such as horror and thriller, both of which this film mixes together quite nicely. If it is a horror film, then it takes up horror as an art rather than exploitative material; the film is not very violent until the final scene, but about as psychologically vicious as they come. And if it is a thriller, then it is certainly one of the best. Modern films about grief seldom tap into the mind of the griever as well as this one does; it uses the genre stylistics that it must have to please a certain audience to illustrate every emotion from momentary revival to prolonged sorrow. It is, to me, the best kind of movie; a roller coaster ride of different feelings. It is engaging, yet the suspense absolutely cuts like a knife all the way through.

An unexpected tragedy; the young daughter of married couple John (Donald Sutherland) and Laura Baxter (Julie Christie) drowns in the pond that rests in their backyard. It began like any other day, but the parents were not being very attentive of their children; as I said, it was unexpected. They are given the perfect opportunity to get away from it all when John is called over to Venice, Italy to restore an old church by a bishop (Massimo Serato), and Laura goes with him, but they depart without their only son, who presumably stays in England. One of the first things to happen when they arrive in Venice involves two sisters, one who is a blind psychic and claims to have seen their dead child in one of her visions. This restores some faith for Laura, although John believes in more rational things than premonitions.

However, as they continue to stay in Venice, he starts having odd experiences and possibly visions of his own. He keeps seeing a small, child-like (in size) figure wearing a red raincoat similar to the one that his daughter was when she died. In a very sudden sequence, John is damn well almost the victim of a freak accident while working on the church. He also believes there is a serial killer running amuck in the city upon seeing the dead bodies of young women being hoisted from Venice's waters by deep sea divers. Is he himself a psychic? Is he crazy? Or is he just grieving? These are the kinds of questions that go through our heads when we watch "Don't Look Now".

At the core of the story is John and Laura's relationship, threatened by their recent loss. At times the pair seems inseparable and madly in love -like in the controversial sex scene, which has been speculated by a great many people as being un-simulated - while the next moment, they could appear distant. The turning point of the story is probably when their son back in England has an accident that renders him to the comfort of a hospital bed, but still alive, luckily; with Laura going back home to check up on him and John staying in Venice to fix up the church until it's finished. You can imagine what this does to their relationship. It actually gives the last hour or so of the film its divine edge; John is now alone in this hallucinatory world that he finds himself unwillingly thrust into.

I think the editing here is key. Stylistically, the film looks and feels absolutely unconventional. Past, present, and future could all be happening at the same time, but we as an audience don't have a clue where all the puzzle pieces fit perfectly and why. But this definitely adds to the intrigue of the picture. A good thriller fucks with your mind and never stops until its final frame; and if that is true, this is a masterful genre film. The elements of horror that I spoke of before include a séance scene, brought on by the psychic sisters, and an overall Gothic aesthetic. One might not think of that word when speaking of Venice, but one of the purposes of visual arts is, in my opinion, to do something different with just about everything you possibly can. So if you are given a place that is not initially menacing, make it menacing. Watching the film, I am reminded not only of classic ghost stories and countless mysteries, but also the works of Dario Argento and, yes, Alfred Hitchcock.

Roeg's strength as a director probably comes with his credits as a cinematographer. One of his earliest successes was contributing to the overall look of "Lawrence of Arabia", one of the best looking films there ever was or ever will be, and he went on to do camerawork for Roger Corman in "The Masque of the Red Death" and David Lean for certain scenes in "Doctor Zhivago". His history as a mere cameraman makes the transition to full-on visionary director genuinely smooth. This film is VERY visual. All the best scenes rely on not only the combination of sound and sight, but also each individual element that comes together to make the both of them (editing, sound effects, etcetera) so engrossingly effective. Somehow, Roeg only went on to make three memorable films total. One, "Walkabout", came before "Don't Look Now", while the other was "The Man Who Fell to Earth". The truth is that "Don't Look Now" served as a positive influence for many thrillers and horror films alike; although it remains unmatched in it un-canniness. Because at the time, one did not simply manipulate guys like Roeg.

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More Don't Look Now reviews
review by . August 07, 2011
After the tragic death of their young daughter, an architect (Donald Sutherland) and his wife (Julie Christie) move to Venice, where he attends to the arduous restoration of a church. There, the couple meet an elderly pair of English sisters (Hilary Mason, Clelia Matania), one of whom is a psychic who claims to be aware of their daughter's presence. Eventually, Sutherland's character experiences premonitions that seem to coincide with a series of murders...      This …
review by . June 10, 2009
Following the death of their daughter, Laura and John Baxter (Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland) are living in Venice, where John is restoring an old church.  They meet a strange pair of women, one of whom is a psychic who claims she can see their dead little girl.  This fascinates Laura, but then the woman says John is in mortal danger. This is a very well-made, creepy thriller.  Filmed in the shadowy, crumbly alleyways of Venice, it is chock full …
About the reviewer
Ryan J. Marshall ()
Ranked #11
It's very likely that the only kind of reviews I'll ever post here are movie reviews. I'm very passionate about film; and at this point, it pretty much controls my life. Film gives us a purpose; … more
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About this movie



Director: Nicolas Roeg
Genre: Drama, Fantasy, Mystery, Thriller
Release Date: December 9, 1973
MPAA Rating: R
Screen Writer: Allan Scott, Chris Bryant
Runtime: 1hr 50min
Studio: Casey Productions, Eldorado Films, D.L.N. Ventures Partnership
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