Director Nicolas Roeg brings a short story from Daphne Du Maurier to life on the big screen with an emotionally charged and spooky rendition in ‘Don’t Look Now.’ His particular style employs the use of recurrent imagery and foreshadowing to help build the suspense and bring the viewer into the story successfully.
Set in both England and Venice, the story opens with the sad situation of a child’s innocent drowning. We find John Baxter (Donald Sutherland), a father of two and husband to Laura (Julie Christie), having a premonition that something is wrong with his daughter. He follows his instincts and discovers her underwater in a pond behind their home. His anguish comes through as he tries to revive her, but is too late. It is a heartbreaking scene and really stands out, giving us a glimpse of the type of high quality acting and directing that is found in the film.
Filmed with a realistic, raw effect, ‘Don’t Look Now’ takes you through the beautiful streets of Venice and into the relationship between husband and wife, John and Laura, in a believable way. Laura has struggled since the death of their daughter at their home in England. When John’s job takes the couple to Venice in order for him to restore an old church, things change.
In a restaurant, Laura meets two elderly sisters, one that is blind and is also a psychic. The psychic, Heather, tells her that she saw Laura’s daughter at their table, laughing, and that she is happy now. An interesting note here is that before this information is revealed, John begins complaining that he is very cold. As paranormal investigators will tell you, cold spots or feelings of intense cold isolated to a specific area, can be related to paranormal activity. This was a great touch to add to the scene.
Laura befriends the sisters and accompanies them to their hotel, where the psychic goes into a trance. She gives Laura the message that her deceased daughter says John is in danger. Roeg uses a lot of foreshadowing, and danger is one of many themes that recur. The color red is another visual that can be found in many forms in this film. Interestingly, the Italian title for this film was ‘A Venezia…un Dicembre Rosso Shocking’ which translates to ‘In Venice… a Shocking Red December.’
There is an intimate sex scene between John and Laura a little ways into the movie. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t surprised by it. I certainly wasn’t expecting it. A fun little factoid about the scene is that the film almost received a rating of X in the United States due to this scene. They had to cut 9 frames in order to avoid the rating. Also, they filmed the scene on the first day that Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie met. How’s that for a “getting to know your co-workers’ bonding experience?
Some of the spookier moments in the film come after the couple receives a call from the boarding school where their son is, informing them that he has had an accident. Laura flies back to England, leaving John in Venice. John sees his wife with the two sisters in a boat after his wife has supposedly left for England. At the same time there is a serial killer loose in Venice. John fears for his wife’s life and reports her and the two sisters missing to the police. A series of visions and nighttime chases through the foggy, eerie streets of Venice bring the movie to a shocking conclusion.
I’m always a sucker for a movie with ghosts, and this one did not disappoint. Classy and real, this one supplied me with the brain food I needed to keep me trying to figure out what would happen and the meaning behind certain things. I like a movie that keeps me engaged, and ‘Don’t Look Now’ did just that.
As terrible as it is, a young child’s death is not unheard of. Drowning is a real danger to young ones, and so with this subject, the story gives us a potentially-very real situation. Watching the parents deal with the event is also believable, and their intimate exchanges were well placed. People who have lost loved ones often go to psychics in order to try and make contact with the deceased. When the serial killer is added to the mix, and John begins to see things, this is where the story takes a turn for the fantastic instead of realistic.
Only two years before the movie was released, Du Maurier penned the short story on which this film is based. The movie seems to follow the book, for the most part. The story is a solid look at grief, but when you incorporate the aspects of murder and the paranormal, you have the makings of a great horror flick. As the viewer, I wanted to find out what was going on probably about as much as Sutherland’s John did.
The amazing views of Venice are aesthetically pleasing. Roeg brings us in close to the Baxter family and with each flashback and merged imagery we become further engrossed in their plight. Presentation is one of the film’s strongest suits and most unique traits. This movie became an influential horror film and is highly regarded as a modern classic in British film.
Watch this one because it is a study in great film making and use of imagery. Also, if you’re jonesing to see Donald Sutherland’s naked butt – no judgement – here you go. Aesthetically, the movie is like a mini-vacation, because you feel as if you’re right there in Venice with the characters. It was truly a delight. Now I want to go get some lessons in speaking Italian. How about if I just indulge in some Italian food instead? Yeah, that sounds like much more do-able.