Tuesday, October 26, 2010

31 Days Of Horror Day 26: The Unseen #46: Don't Look Now

Why’d I Buy It?: Picked it up at the Hollywood Video IS BURNING DOWN!!! Sale.

Why Haven’t I Watched It?: I know… FUCK I KNOW!!! (Pt. 3). In a bit more of a serious vein, I’m not the world’s biggest Nicholas Roeg fan. I doubt I would even place. I mean I love The Witches, and in general Roeg is fine, but I’ve always felt that he’s a director very much of his time and place. Take The Man Who Fell To Earth; David Bowie being hassled by the Olde Timey German Farmer only he can see and he and mate fucking in a vat of oatmeal, might have seemed mind blowing and profound back in the seventies. Now it just seems kind of silly. Particularly when compared to Walter Tevis’s sensitive novel. (In all fairness I haven’t seen Performance and Walkabout).

How Was It?: A moving bracingly human horror story. But you already knew that.

It would take only the faintest of nudges to make Don’t Look Now not a horror movie at all. Though it undeniably becomes one in the final ten minutes, and it contains both psychic interludes and a tense disaster on a scaffold. The core of the movie; a grieving couple simultaneously drawing together and tearing each other apart in a foreign city in the wake of their daughter’s death. Their tense relationship exacerbated by the wife’s new found slightly daffy spiritualism brought on by an encounter with a psychic and her husband’s unrelenting despair. Sutherland at first tries to encourage his wife's new found serenity, but it's obvious that it's eating at him. In one of the film's best written scenes he spits out "It's like she's become her whole self." with unmistakable bitterness.

This conflict would be at home in any respectable drawing room drama. Think Ordinary People written by John Updike, into which a homicidal dwarf keeps intruding.

Though perhaps I’ve said too much..,

But in spite of its sensitivity and self conscious artistry, Don’t Look Now remains a vicious horror movie. And it’s because of its unlikely literary streak, not in spite of it. Ultimately, Don’t Look Now is the story of a man who literally chases his grief until it kills him. And if that’s not a horror story then brother I don’t know what is.

The film doesn’t deal in scares, it deals in dread.

Not enough can be said about Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie’s performances, which anchor the movie in a deep and painful emotional bedrock even whenever the film threatens to tip into outlandish.

Coupled with Roeg’s masterful compositions and Anthony Richmond’s gothic cinematography (Roeg did some of the uncredited handy work himself here) of a dark and malevolent utterly haunted Venice, the film creates a disturbing portrait of haunted minds stretched to their breaking point. It’s true that not much happens in the traditional hack and slash sense in Don’t Look Now, but the palpable sense of menace the film provides is far more distressing. Perhaps the key is that Roeg never indulges in the usual genre hysterics. The murders that permeate the film are never displayed in long loving giallo set pieces, but instead act as a mournful backdrop to the film. Seen almost exclusively in aftermath. Like the fact that we spot the small figure in red far more times then Sutherland does, it just underlines that his doom is already written.

The unease permeates every level of the film. Take the scene where Sutherland attempts to describe his situation to a wormy police inspector. I doubt anyone can make it through the scene without squirming. But why? There’s none of the usual Hitchcockian reasons. There’s no immediate danger to the protagonist. He’s not under suspicion, there’s no real consequence to his actions. And yet there is a horrid sense of unease to ever frame of the sequence.

And in the nigh indescribable final time shredding montage Roeg’s technique pays off in spades. With a jolting, unrelenting blast of pure cinema. It’s a haunting film. In all senses of the word.


Andrew Green said...

Heh, you can pick up some real gems at Hollywood Videos right now....
I got about seven DVDs for 20 bucks at my location. Of course, none of them were as interesting as this one.

Anonymous said...

I've got this in my Netflix instant queue right now. Might have to check it out soon. Sounds great.

Matt Keeley said...

I've been meaning to watch this one too. Though I'll probably read the short story first. It's by Daphne du Maurier, also the author of The Birds and Rebecca.

Shame the first thing I ever read about the movie (not here) gave away more or less the entire plot...

Chris Regan said...

Love this film! Performance is awesome too! I met Nicholas Roeg a few months ago at a talk he gave in Brighton - he was very laid back and super-nice.

Bryce Wilson said...

@ AG: Man I thought they'd all closed by now.

@ PoT: Verrrrryyy Interested in what you'll think of this one.

@ Keele: Yeah I heard the story isn't wasn't of her better ones. Then again, I heard that from Sight And Sound. And they hate just about everything.

@ Chris: I've been meaning to watch Performance since The Z Channel. Roeg definitely seems like he'd be a cool/very interesting guy.