Editorial / Film Review

Classic Film: Don’t Look Now

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Director: Nicolas Roeg

Runtime: 110 minutes

Don’t Look Now had been on my horror film to-watch list for quite some time so I jumped at the chance to watch it on Stan. I have always admired Julie Christie’s depth and fragility as an actress, so I was particularly invested in watching the film.

Don’t Look Now begins with husband and wife, John (Donald Sutherland) and Laura Baxter (Julie Christie) relaxing at their country estate in England with their two children. When their little girl drowns, the couple decides to live in Venice where John has a commission from the pope to restore an old church.

In a chance encounter at an Italian restaurant, Laura meets sisters Heather (Hilary Mason) and Wendy (Clelia Matania). Heather claims to have a psychic sense, despite being blind and mentions that she saw the deceased Christine standing between Laura and John while they were dining. While John remains skeptical of the sister’s abilities, Laura is convinced. This causes a rift between the couple. After visiting the sisters again Laura tries to convince her husband to leave Venice after Heather predicts he is in danger. When Laura gets called back to England, this tale of a couple working through the grief of losing a child takes an eerie turn. John starts to see Christine’s doppelganger around the poky alleys of Venice and also watches the latest victim in a string of serial murders fished out of the canals.

Don’t Look Now uses haunting imagery and vivid symbolism to create an amazing piece of art with an air of mystery and suspense throughout. The film perfectly deconstructs the emotions of grief and love felt by the protagonists. The drowning sequence with Donald Sutherland yelling an almost inhuman cry of pain with his little girl in his arms is moving and iconic. The editing of the film is unique, managing to capture suspense and banality side by side. The jolting juxtaposition between takes connects the film ideas in a thrilling and unnerving way.

Don’t Look Now is often classified as a horror film, but is closer to Hitchcock thriller. Like many of the best in the genre, the occult thriller defies conventions by not relying on jump scares or cheap trickery. The script is based on a short story by Daphne du Maurier and utilises many of the literary conventions prevalent in the novella. The film employs foreshadowing and symbolism by using recurring themes. Glass breaking, water and the reassurance of the colour red harken back to the earlier tragedy of the film.

When released there was controversy surrounding the film’s graphic sex scene. There were even rumors that Sutherland and Christie were going beyond just acting out the scene. This is just a testament to how real the relationship between the two leads is. The scene in question effortlessly cuts between the couple getting ready for dinner and their sexual tryst moments earlier. The whole scene seems somewhat familiar to the viewer because it cuts between the passion and banality present in every relationship. One can’t help but be reminded of their own love affairs.  Another treasure of this film is the score composed by Pino Donaggio. From the childlike piano introduction to the heavily orchestral pieces, the music is perfectly matched to the scenes.

Don’t Look Now is one of cinema’s greatest achievements with its wonderful performances, haunting music score, sleek editing, and eerie plot.

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